Skepticism is a good thing - and entirely understandable when the issue at hand is a radioactive leak from a nuclear power plant. Radiation is scary, and Americans know all too well that "experts" are not always right. Stuff happens. Things do not always turn out as the experts said they would.
So we can't blame Ocean Township Mayor Joseph Lachawiec for demanding more information about the plan to clean up approximately 180,000 gallons of tritium-contaminated water that leaked from the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant into the Cohansey aquifer.
The leak occurred in 2009. In May, the state Department of Environmental Protection, dissatisfied with the pace of Exelon Corp.'s response, invoked the state Spill Act and took over responsibility for the cleanup.
The plan is to pump the contaminated water out of the ground, mix it with water that is used to cool the nuclear reactor and then pump the diluted mixture into Oyster Creek, which flows into Barnegat Bay.
Tritium is a byproduct of nuclear fission and has been linked to cancer if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. However, it occurs naturally. And the diluted water that will be discharged into Oyster Creek under the cleanup plan will meet federal safety standards for drinking water and poses no threat to anyone swimming, boating or fishing in Oyster Creek or Barnegat Bay, according to both the DEP and Exelon.
Lachawiec - a proponent of nuclear power who has even encouraged Exelon to built a new reactor in the township - understands that. But he wants the DEP to hold a public hearing on the cleanup plan, which he says was developed without public discussion or disclosure.
The DEP responded by saying Deputy Commissioner Irene Kropp would give a presentation at a township meeting if local officials wanted it. That's smart - and should have been done earlier.
We don't doubt that the plan was based on the best available science and that the discharge will be carefully monitored. Neither the DEP nor Exelon have anything to gain - and have much to lose - by pursuing an ineffective, dangerous cleanup.
But for public-relations reasons alone, DEP officials should come down to Ocean Township with all their facts, figures, charts and data and present it all to residents.
True, there may be no substantive, scientific reason for such a presentation on a cleanup plan that already has been carefully vetted by experts in the field.
Then again, so were the pipes that were supposed to hold the tritium-contaminated water and prevent it from leaking in the first place. But an improperly applied coating allowed the pipes to corrode.
As we said, stuff happens. So it's simply smart for the DEP to cover its ... well, let's just say to cover all the bases regarding this plan. Hold a hearing, a meeting, a presentation - it doesn't matter what you call it. It can't hurt. And it may make some people less scared and less critical.