By Diane Nahas
Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2020
On May 19, after a torrential rainstorm, the Edenville and Sanford hydroelectric dams along the Tittabawassee River in central Michigan, two hours northwest of Detroit, collapsed causing flooding in the city of Midland, engulfing a Dow Chemical site which houses a nuclear research reactor, homes of thousands of local inhabitants, and the city’s sewage system. The river crested at a record 35 feet on May 20 in the 500-year flood. The city went under an estimated nine feet of water. Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Witmer declared an emergency and 11,000 residents were evacuated.
Part of the massive damage included floodwaters entering the containment ponds of the Dow Chemical factory, where waste from its Superfund cleanup is held from production of Saran Wrap, styrofoam, Agent Orange and mustard gas. This provoked fears about the floodwaters reaching the nuclear reactor or breaching the walls of the pond and further contaminating the Tittabawassee River, which eventually runs into Lake Huron.
Dow filed a Notification of Unusual Event with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which states, “The reactor was in a shutdown condition at the time of the event…due to Covid-19.” The nuclear gauges at the reactor are Category 3 radioactive materials, which are sealed radioactive sources that could be fatal upon exposure for periods of days to weeks, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.