Since May 2015, Indian Point has suffered seven major malfunctions
On Saturday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo ordered an investigation of recent “alarmingly high” levels of radioactive tritium-contaminated groundwater found at the Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan, and reported by Entergy Corporation, owners of the plant.
In a statement and letter to Acting Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker the Governor said:
“The levels of radioactivity reported this week are significantly higher than in past incidents. Three of forty monitoring wells registered alarming increases. In fact, one of the monitoring well increased nearly 65,000 percent from 12,300 picocuries per liter to over 8,000,000 picocuries per liter.”
Entergy reports that the contamination “has not migrated off site and as such does not pose an immediate threat to public health.” But the Governor has asked the Commissioners to “fully investigate this incident and employ all available measures, including working with Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to determine the extent of the release, its likely duration, cause and potential impacts to the environment and public health, and how the release can be contained.”
In fact, the finding of 8,000,000 picocuries per liter at one well is well above the federal safety limit for tritium in groundwater.
According to the nonprofit watchdog group, Riverkeeper, “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.” In December, Governor Cuomo ordered a full investigation of the malfunctions.
Since the 1990’s, many accidental radiological releases at Indian Point have been reported. These releases have created underground radioactive plumes that affect the area’s ecosystems. A timeline of these leaks has been documented by Riverkeeper. Riverkeeper believes that “the plant can no longer operate safely and should be closed pending completion of the Governor’s investigations.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ( NRC) requires nuclear power plants to report radiological releases and is responsible for monitoring radioactive leaks and spills in about 65 sites across the country where commercial nuclear power plants are operating. The Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA) has set a maximum contaminant level for Tritium at 20,000 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), which is the cut-off level that the NRC uses in reporting leaks and spills in groundwater.
The NRC maintains that there is no health or safety threat to the public from releases below the cut-off level. However, in the past, nuclear power experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists have criticized the NRC for its “inconsistent oversight” of radioactive releases, often allowing plant owners to violate regulations “with impunity.”
Joyce H. Newman is an Emmy Award-winning environmental journalist, educator, and gardener. She holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden, and is a tour guide there.