Friday, July 23, 2010

Nuclear Shadow

Three Mile Island scared the crap out of me when I was 12. It came close to melting down and I remember being very concerned for my aunt, who lived in a nearby town that would have been eliminated had the ultimate disaster happened. I went to see the movie the China Syndrome not long after and that cemented my hate for nuclear power that lasted through young adulthood. I have mellowed a bit with age, and now recognize that the culprits in all energy related calamities are us. We are the ones that create the demand, and demand cheap energy. Not the oil, coal or nuclear power companies. I have learned that when I’m wagging my finger at someone else, three are pointing back at me.
So today I slid into the water upstream of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant at the canal lock recreation area. The lock haven dam is just down stream from that, and backs up the Susquehanna to supply cooling water to Three Mile Island, and potential energy to the York Haven dam and powerhouse. Just about anywhere I have snorkeled on this river is affected by energy production in some way, and the water from the lower river is used by hydro, nuclear and coal fired plants to give us the energy we need to maintain our lifestyles.
The river here is typical Susquehanna, big expansive shallow water, with numerous rock outcrops. An assortment of invasive shells, an invasive jambalaya of sorts; mystery snails, corbicula, and rusty crayfish carapaces, were piled in a dry eddy.
I slipped into the water and 5 crayfish rocketed in different directions. They are everywhere, and I can’t make any move without causing one to shoot off out of sight. I am fairly certain these are the invasive rusty crayfish, with large claws and rust colored patches on the sides of their carapaces. They are so abundant, they must surely have an affect on the ecology here, especially on the benthos, but benthic fish, like tessellated darters, don’t seem to be affected as they appear to be almost as abundant. Virginia river snails are also common and they leave grazed patches and trails where they have eaten the slick biofilm on the smoothed slabs of bedrock, but they may be affected. Maybe Virginia river snails are less abundant here than other places like the mouth of the Octoraro because of the crayfish. There are lots of dead shells of another invasive, Chinese mystery snail, but where are the live animals? Are they hunkered down in the substrate?
This is used water, used by power companies and industry, farmers, city dwellers and suburbanites. But then any river in North America is heavily used. Invasives, like many of these crayfish, Chinese mystery snails, and now for the Susquehanna, zebra mussels, are one of the leading causes of globally declining freshwater biodiversity. And I wonder what the biggest danger is, or will all these threats work in synergy to finally destroy whatever is left of our freshwater ecosystems? I’m sure that the system I observed in a few feet of water today little resembles the ecosystem that was here pre European settlement. So while it may not be pristine, it is still amazing.

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