By Steve White email@example.com
A radioactive bite sends Spider-Man to the top of the box office, but that's Hollywood and here in Nebraska -- we have our own radioactive concern. Uranium creeps near unsafe levels in Grand Island, where the city has begun treating its water.
Water goes in and out, and as Lynn Mayhew explains it, no one has to do anything, except a lone city employee checking the monitor daily.
With no chemicals and no on-site staff, Grand Island began removing uranium from its water last week. The start-up as quiet as the plant itself.
"You don't hear any sounds, any mechanical things moving," WRT Sales VP Ron Dollar said. "We say it's like watching grass grow."
The $3 million plant addresses the city's radioactive problem, to deal with growing levels of uranium that were nearing the EPA threshold.
Utilities Director Tim Luchsinger said, "It's naturally occurring at very low levels."
The EPA says if 10,000 drank two liters of water a day for 70 years, just one would die of cancer. And that's at a level higher than Grand Island currently has and the city wants to keep it that way.
Officials say there's little risk for employees who visit the plant.
Luchsinger said, "Less exposure here than if you were in Denver at high altitude, if you were taking a flight. If you're using natural gas at home, you're going to get exposure to more radiation than you are here."
As the utilities director explains it, the system may not be that different from the water softener in your home, except for the 300 pounds of uranium removed yearly.
Luchsinger said, "Instead of recharging it like you would a water softener at home, company comes in, removes the media, puts in fresh media and take spent media to a special radioactive waste site."
A synthetic polymer absorbs the uranium, with nothing added to the water.
"So it doesn't waste taste, water quality or other things like that," Dollar said.
Grand Island has 21 wells near the Platte River. Three of those feed into the plant, get cleaned, and mixed back with the rest of the water, flowing at safe levels to your home.
The real expense is to dispose of the uranium and fill out all the paperwork to deal with radioactive waste.
The contract to maintain the system is $785,000 a year. The plant is believed to be the largest of its kind in the nation.