As early as August 2023, or sooner, Holtec International, the owner of the Indian Point nuclear facility conducting decommissioning operations, plans to discharge one million gallons of treated, but still radioactive, waste water into the Hudson River from which seven municipalities source their drinking water and others rely on as a backup source.
Holtec claims this is the best solution for disposing of contaminated waste water because the river will dilute the effects of the toxic radiation. But Westchester environmental and energy groups oppose the plans, as do many science and public health experts who study potential health risks, particularly for young children and women.
At a public forum on Feb. 16 concerning the public health and safety impacts of decommissioning the Indian Point Plant, Dr. Kathy Nolan, Pediatrician and President of Physicians for Social Responsibility of New York, noted that a formal health impact assessment for those at risk is needed before any action by Holtec, or else, she argues, no discharge should be allowed under the precautionary principle, given that potentially dangerous health impacts would be unknown.
“Since the Hudson is a tidal river, radioactive wastewater can affect communities all the way up to Poughkeepsie and down to Manhattan, Staten Island, and New Jersey,” said Nancy S. Vann, president of the Safe Energy Rights Group, last year.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates the decommissioning process, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sets standards for ‘safe’ levels of radioactive contaminants in water. But experts say that neither of these federal agencies adequately considers the unique vulnerability of developing fetuses, children and women to radioactive exposures. Also, the NRC rules do not take into account the seven communities that draw their water from the Hudson, consuming it on a daily basis and also using it for cooking, bathing and showering. Nor does the NRC take into consideration impacts on fish and wildlife.
In fact, radioactive waste has been released into the Hudson River for decades–as long as Indian Point has existed. It was accepted as long as it was “below regulatory concern” according to standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the 70’s.
But scientists now understand much more about the adverse effects of certain radioactive toxins, such as tritium, which cannot be filtered out of the waste water pools and which may adversely affect human health and our ecosystems. One expert at the public forum, Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry executive and chief engineer at the non-profit Fairewinds Associates, explained that the EPA’s limits on safe levels of tritium are very inadequate.
The forum experts generally recommended the least harmful, most prudent way forward is storage onsite along with the high level radioactive fuel rods until the tritium can decay or new scientific methods of removal are discovered. In addition, advocacy groups recommended that Westchester municipalities pass their own resolutions opposing Holtec’s plans.