The Indian Point nuclear plant is located on the Hudson River, and it serves the electrical needs of about two million people. But last month, when workers were preparing a reactor for refueling, they accidentally spilled contaminated water containing the radioactive hydrogen isotope tritium, The Free Thought Project (TFTP)
reports. That caused an enormous radiation spike in groundwater monitoring wells, and one well's radioactivity increased by 65,000 percent.
Entergy, the Louisiana company that owns the plant, offered an explanation of the readings that can't be described as anything other than "Ho-hum," saying they were "fluctuations that can be expected as the material migrates." The company further said that the tritium contaminated water spill was contained within the plant, and never made it to the Hudson River or any other water source.
"There is no impact to public health or safety," said Entergy spokeswoman Patricia Kakridas.
Maybe so, but this is the ninth leak in just the past year, and four of those were serious enough to shut down the reactors. However, this most recent leak contains a number of radioactive elements such as strontium-90, cesium-137, cobalt-60, and nickel-63, meaning it isn't limited to tritium contamination, according to the New York Department of State's Coastal Zone Management Assessment.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also doesn't seem convinced, and earlier this month he launched a multi-agency probe into operations at the plant, The New York Daily News
At that time, samples taken from groundwater monitoring wells showed concentrations of tritium that were 80 percent higher compared to when the leak was first reported in January.
Additionally, Cuomo has ordered the state health and environmental conservation commissioners to investigate the accident, and on Wednesday, he ordered a more extensive investigation that also includes the Department of Public Service.
Investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
are also scheduled to visit the plant Thursday to look into the accident.
"Last week the company reported alarming levels of radioactivity at three monitoring wells, with one well's radioactivity increasing nearly 65,000 percent," the governor said. "The trends of unexpected outages and environmental incidents like these are extremely disconcerting."
It's believed that the leak occurred when a drain overflowed during a maintenance operation as workers were transferring water containing high levels of radioactive contamination.
Environmentalists have called for the plant to shut down while the probe continues, and say there have been too many leaks and other problems at the plant over the years.
"The news just keeps getting worse," said Paul Gallay, president of the Riverkeeper,
a watchdog group. "Our concerns go beyond the spike in tritium levels. This is about a disturbing recurrence of serious malfunctions — seven over the last eight months."
Jerry Nappi, a spokesman for Entergy said the contaminated water wasn't going into the Hudson River or into drinking water sources.
"Some organizations who are longtime opponents of nuclear power will take opportunities to try and frighten the public," he said. "The fact is this issue did not and cannot impact human health or any aquatic life in the river."
But TFTP notes that the area around Indian Point is a "cancer cluster," and the local rate of thyroid cancer registers 66 percent higher than the national average, said Joseph Mangano, Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP).
Researchers at RPHP compared cancer data from state and national levels from 1988-1992 with three other five-year periods (1993-1997, 1998-2002, and 2003-2007), RT.com
reports. The results were published in 2009, and they show the cancer rates rising from 11 percent below the national average to seven percent above in that time span. What's worse is that some rates of cancer showed unexpected increases in 19 out of 20 major types of cancer, with thyroid cancer showing the largest increase. Rates for this cancer went from 13 percent below the national average to 51 percent above.
However, Entergy says there's no correlation between the plant's operation and the increased cancer rates.
"There is no relation whatsoever," Kakridas told RT.com.
But everyone who lives near a nuclear power plant is exposed to radiation, Mangano said, and some plants are worse than others. Indian Point, he noted, is an old plant, and since there is a large population living nearby, the danger of radiation exposure is greater.
When RPHP's study was published, more than 20 million people lived within 50 miles of the plant.
The first reactor at Indian Point began operating in 1962, but was decommissioned in 1974 when the core cooling system no longer met regulatory requirements, RT.com reports. And the facility's initial 40-year license expired last December, but the NRC issued Entergy a temporary extension pending final approval.
Alongside Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, Scenic Hudson, and Physicians for Social Responsibility say they have asked NRC Regulatory Commission Chairman Stephen Burns to order plant operations to be suspended until Indian Point's safety is thoroughly reviewed by state and federal investigators, Daily Freeman News
However, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), says the organizations should first demonstrate how to replace the energy produced by the nuclear plant.
Indian Point should never have been built because of its proximity to a hugely populated area, Schumer added, but said he doesn't support shutting it down immediately, because the plant provides 25 percent of the power to the downstate area, making it crucial.
"I have told some of the environmental people, if you can show me a plan to figure out a way to replace that electricity, fine, but if you can't, it's going to raise electricity rates 30 or 40 percent, which are high enough on average people and that's not the way to go," he said. "In the meantime, I have emphasized very strong safety."
But with radiation levels spiking so high, one has to wonder how safe can this possibly be?
The Indian Point plant is located about 45 miles south of Kingston City Hall, on the Hudson River's eastern shore, and about 24 miles north of the boundary of New York City.