Glowing Review of Lake Keowee in South Carolina

We returned this summer to Lake Keowee, a remote man-made lake in western South Carolina that offers ideal conditions for recreational boating, swimming and camping. The lake's not too crowded, the water's clean and never too cold, and you're only a half hour from Clemson University, a great college town. I'm not a happy camper, but the conditions at Keowee are unnaturally nice. We stayed nearly a week and no one among our group of 15 reported a single mosquito bite, even without lathering up with insect repellant.

The lack of mosquitos is apparently a side effect of the other memorable thing about Keowee. The lake's on the shore of the Oconee Nuclear Station.

Oconee Nuclear Station on Lake Keowee, S.C., photo by Harriet Freeman

Apparently, the nuclear power plant -- which features the same reactor design as Three Mile Island -- recirculates so much of the 18,500-acre lake's water for cooling purposes that mosquitos have no place to lay eggs.

This picture was taken by Harriet Freeman, a South Carolinan who gave me permission to run it on Workbench. One minute you're puttering around by boat through isolated coves with huge lakefront homes, getting away from it all, and then you cross a line of trees and find yourself looking with silent awe at an imposing concrete monument to human engineering capabilities.

In a worst-case scenario study of Oconee conducted in 1997, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that a radiation release from a spent fuel storage facility could result in 16,800 deaths within a 50-mile radius of the plant and 28,900 deaths within 500 miles, rendering 156 square miles around the plant as uninhabitable.

This would, of course, completely ruin a campout.

Blinky, the irradiated fish from The SimpsonsThe accepted wisdom at Lake Keowee is that Clemson University regularly monitors the lake and air around Oconee, judging it safe. But talking to a cashier at Bi-Lo supermarket isn't quite as scientifically rigorous as a peer-reviewed study, so I'm left wondering how safe it is to bask in Keowee's abnormally pleasant waters.

Oconee regularly releases tritiated water into Lake Keowee -- radioactive water that forms when oxygen molecules bond with tritium instead of hydrogen. There's no way to filter this water out of ordinary H20, apparently, but tritium's a naturally occuring element that we all get as background radiation. One pro-nuke blogger says tritiated water is "60 times less radioactive than orange juice."

Before next summer, I'd like to have a much better idea of whether I'm exposing myself to recreational carcinogens when I visit a place that's fast becoming one of my favorite spots on Earth. If anyone has experience assessing the risk factors in taking a nuclear family vacation, I could use your advice.


Tritium is not a different element than hydrogen, it is only a different isotope of hydrogen. As far as danger is concerned, it all depends on the concentration of tritiated water. Tritiated water is used in medical diagnostics, too.

If someone has taken your favorite camping spot, you can also freak them out by walking around with one of these. I am sure they will move, once you happily explain them what are you measuring and how you convert your units.

That Geiger counter is sweet. Do you know if it clicks?

I don't know, I suppose you could contact Edmunds Scientific and ask them.

You might want to reconsider that "mosquito" line. It doesn't make any sense.

Mosquitos generally lay eggs in stagnant or shallow water. "Recirculating" lake water wouldn't make any difference to the thousands of small ponds and puddles all over any normal area with more than drought-like rainfall levels. They also tend to like warmer water, so warmed-up water from the plant would cause more skeeters, not less. Look at low rainfall levels (no puddles) for a lowered mosquito population, not the power plant.

A quick peek online shows that the South Carolina State Climatology Office is recording a severe drought for almost the whole state. There's your reason.

The spent-fuel attack scenario (not just a "radiation release" would involve so much work and effort, the odds of a successful one for the worst-case scenario would be pretty small. Worry about asteroid strikes first.

That said, it's an old design, and should be retired in favor of a newer, safer reactor design. Now, if those folks in the 1970s and 1980s hadn't made it so damned hard to build nuclear plants with better designs, it might be a doable project...

I certainly don't disagree with Cirby, although there may be alternative reasons for the deficit in the desired environmental norm, and which MUST include mosquitoes, unless you hate Gaiai.

The rightwing conspiracy against nature and the liberal utopia might have caused this deficit -- maybe even the machiavellian conspiracy of the vast rightwing and monolithic enemy ... gun owners!

Be alert and report any suspicious behavior to your local political officer ... no need to suborn any rightwing effort to force us to stop allowing 12 year olds to marry and resolutely form partnerships with the Yak of their choice ... or any other species agreeing to such partnership ... or group ...

Humour drier than toasting a portrait of Antonio Carpano with a fifth of straight gin. Thanks Tad. It made my day.


Lake Murray is your answer dude. Dreher Island State Park.

Walking around with a Geiger counter is fun.

And it helps give a sense of perspective.

Household pottery and dishes can be measurably radioactive, depending on how they're made.

That one above apparently doesn't click. They want $900 for a clicking one.

You can pick up an old "it clicks" Geiger counter on Ebay, cheap. And it looks cool.

We just bought a small piece of property on Lake Hartwell and our new neighbors told us not to eat the fish from the lake because of contamination. Of the three houses surrounding us, all of the men in the house died from cancer shortly after moving in. Do you think there is any connection to the nuclear power plant?

The plant's radioactive releases are minor and are discharged into the tailrace (downstream) of the Keowee Hydro Station, which is Lake Hartwell NOT Keowee.

Furthermore, the contamination in Hartwell is PCB contamination (NOT radioactive contamination), which is the subject of a federal court case - Between 1955 and 1977, 400,000 pounds of PCBs were released from the former Sangamo-Weston capacitor manufacturing site in Pickens now owned by Schlumberger.


The plant has nothing to do with the lack of insects. Only a small fraction of Keowee's nearly 1,000,000 acre-feet of water is circulated through each unit's condensers to cool the secondary fluid before returning it to the unit's steam generators.

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