BUCHANAN, NY — The latest in a spate of troublesome incidents at the Indian Point Energy Center has prompted an urgent call from six environmental and health organizations to immediately shut down the aging nuclear plant while urgently needed investigations by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and three New York State agencies are conducted.
The Sierra Club, Riverkeeper, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, Scenic Hudson and Physicians for Social Responsibility are asking NRC Chairman Stephen G. Burns to order the suspension of plant operations until Indian Point’s safety is thoroughly reviewed by State and Federal investigators.
On February 6, it was reported that Indian Point recorded a severe spike in radioactive, tritium-contaminated water at several monitoring wells. At one well, levels of radioactivity were initially recorded to be more than 8 million picocuries per liter, a 65,000 percent increase from previous levels. On February 10, follow-up tests indicated that the highest concentration was 80 percent higher than what was reported only a few days earlier.
This was the seventh alarming incident at the aging plant in eight months, following a transformer explosion and oil spill; a water pump failure; electrical anomalies; and the loss of power to several reactor control rods. This pattern has prompted Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to launch a multi-agency probe into Indian Point’s operations on February 10. Two ongoing investigations into plant safety — conducted by the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation — were combined into a broader investigation that includes the Public Service Commission. The NRC is also dispatching a special investigator to New York to probe the radioactive tritium leak.
Indian Point should not be permitted to operate while its safety is being investigated by four regulatory agencies and under a cloud of uncertainty, say the groups.
“Currently Entergy is unable to properly access its aging labyrinth of more than three miles of pipes beneath the Indian Point site,” said Sierra Club President Aaron Mair. “Entergy focuses on tritium, but the actual leak likely contains a collection of radioactive elements, including Strontium-90, Cesium-137, Cobalt-60, and Nickel-63 that could migrate off the property. It is time to shut down one of New York’s — and the nation’s — oldest failing experiments with nuclear energy that not only threatens Peekskill’s fence line environmental justice communities, but the 20 million people that live within Indian Point’s evacuation zone.”
“The NRC shouldn’t ask the public to take its chances when so many questions are unanswered and the stakes are so high,” says Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay. “Since May 2015, Indian Point has suffered seven major malfunctions, from pump failures to transformer explosions, to radiation leaks, power failures, fires and oil spills. Gov. Cuomo has ordered a comprehensive investigation into these accidents, warning that they demonstrate that Indian Point can no longer operate safely. Pending completion of the State and Federal investigations, we must close Indian Point. These mishaps are happening on an accelerated pace. We shouldn’t be asked to wait for the next one.” concludes Gallay.
“This radiation leak is just the latest in a series of concerning safety incidents at Indian Point, pointing to systemic failures in the operation and maintenance of an aging plant,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan. “Indian Point must be shut down until investigations into the safety of the plant are complete – the health and safety of our communities and the environment demand it. We commend Gov. Cuomo’s quick action in ordering a multi-agency investigation.”
“As an isolated incident, the recent spike in radiation leaks at Indian Point is of significant concern with respect to the vulnerability of the plant to mechanical failure and human error. But the fact is that this is simply the latest mishap in a long string of problems which have plagued this facility for years” said Physicians for Social Responsibility member Dr. Irwin Redlener, MD, Director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute at Columbia University. “It is fair to say that the plant represents a serious public health threat to as many as 20 million within a fifty mile radius. This is because emergency response plans are grossly inadequate and there is essentially no feasible plan to safely evacuate and relocate citizens in the event of a catastrophic failure of Indian Point.”
“These pools — which are not the double-lined containment systems now required even for solid waste — contain spent, but still highly radioactive fuel rods. They’re so overcrowded that Entergy and the NRC cannot visualize their bottoms to assess their integrity, so they have relied on monitoring wells as a second line of defense,” said Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Environmental Director Manna Jo Greene. “To undertake a thorough inspection and repair of these pools, Indian Point would need to be shut down and the older fuel rods moved into dry cask storage. That would unburden the dangerously overcrowded fuel pools, and, with the plant closed, people will see first hand that Indian Point’s energy is not, in fact, needed.”
“Equipment failures and human error are the nexus of catastrophic nuclear accidents,” said Marilyn Elie of Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition’s Leadership Council. “Indian Point has had a series of relatively small incidents because of equipment failures and faulty judgment on the part of staff in the last year. How bad does it have to get before the risk is apparent to all? We are all safer with the plant closed. The lives of 20 million people who live within 50 miles of the reactors are at risk, as are their families, pets and property.”
“Tritiated water is just the tip of the iceberg,” continues Elie. “This water will invariably carry with it other radioactive isotopes that are found inside of containment, all deadly and all carcinogenic. It needs to be noted that these isotopes are released regularly and routinely in water through the discharge canal that leads to the Hudson River in far greater quantities than seem to be happening now. There is no safe level of exposure to low level radiation and yet we live with this in our community year after year.”