12/16/2011 06:00 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2011

Occupy Toledo Makes Surprise Appearance At Monroe Nuclear Power Plant Hearing

Members of Occupy Toledo gave a surprise "mic check" Thursday to audience members of a public meeting on a proposed nuclear power plant in Monroe, Mich., 20 miles north of their Ohio hometown.

The meeting, sponsored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and part of the approval process, invited public input about the safety and environmental impact of adding a second nuclear power plant in Monroe. DTE Energy has been considering building another plant to complement its existing Fermi II plant since 2008.

DTE spokesman Guy Cerullo told HuffPost that DTE has not yet fully committed to a nuclear power project, but due to the lengthy amount of time it takes to construct a plant the company needed to consider various options for meeting future energy demands.

The proposed plant would boil water and then send it directly through turbines to create electricity. The fundamentals of the model are similar in principle to those of the ill-fated Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, but Cerullo stressed that any new plant would be safer and more modern.

"The Fukushima plant was built in the '70s and this would be the latest in design," he said. "It would not be the same at all"

The prevention of an emergency is an issue of particular concern in Monroe, where the Fermi I breeder reactor suffered a partial meltdown in 1967.

Ed McArdle, Conservation Committee chair for the Michigan Sierra Club, attended the meeting. Noting the history of Fermi I, and other nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island,
he ridiculed the proposed plant as a dangerous and expensive venture.

"This is the most expensive, complicated way to boil water to create electricity," McArdle told HuffPost, adding that the Sierra Club has historically been against nuclear energy. "We feel wind and solar efficiency can provide 100 percent of our electricity in 20 or 30 years."

In addition to safety concerns, others noted the possible risk to public health that building a second nuclear power plant in Monroe would bring. Opponents claim nuclear energy has already impacted the health of residents in the community.

"There is data in Monroe that there are higher than normal cancer rates, higher than normal rates in diseases, developmental disabilities, and this could be because of radioactive releases from Fermi 2," said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, an alternative energy advocacy group, in a press release.

According to a 2009 Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) study, the cancer rate among people under the age of 25 in Monroe County rose at triple the rate of the rest of Michigan between 1996 and 2005.

But a new nuclear power plant would also mean jobs for Monroe, something that clearly motivated many of those present at Thursday's meeting.

According to Cerullo, a new plant would employ 1,000 to 3,000 workers throughout construction and employ about 700 people long-term. He also said nuclear power plant workers' wages would be around 36 percent higher than the area's average wage.

"They're very good jobs long-term," Cerullo said. He also noted the plant could generate $20 million in state and local tax revenue.

While McArdle said he understood the attraction a nuclear plant holds for those interested in economic stimulus, he believes such reasoning is short-sighted.

"They see the jobs. They don't see anything else. They don't visualize the rate increases or the potential for accidents or pollution," he said.

According to McArdle, the more than 150 people who attended the NRC meeting appeared pretty evenly divided in opinion on the proposed plant.

The audience consisted of a boisterous mix of DTE employees, politicians, environmentalists, union members and Monroe residents. And then there were 10 members of Occupy Toledo, who denounced the gathering in unison "as nothing but a dog-and-pony show prioritizing the profits of Detroit Edison [DTE] over the health and safety of the citizens of this region and the natural environment."

Prema Chandrathil, a spokeswoman for NRC Region 3, told HuffPost the commission takes citizen and safety concerns very seriously. She added there are still many steps left before determining whether DTE's proposal "meets all the designs and applicable regulations to go ahead and be a safe operating a power plant."

The agency will take public input via mail until Jan. 11.