Buchanan, NY – Indian Point Energy Center, a three-unit nuclear power plant station, which is located roughly 30 miles from the heart of Manhattan in New York City, has been overwhelmed with safety breaches and leaks, and has even been the topic of a planned cover-up since it started operations in the 1970s. A statement from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday revealed “radioactive tritium-contaminated water leaked into groundwater” in the vicinity of the nuclear facility is hardly a shock – though no less a sign that it may be time to shut down the aging plant.
“The company reported alarming levels of radioactivity at three monitoring wells, with one well’s radioactivity increasing nearly 65,000 percent,” Cuomo’s statement mentioned.
Entergy, which manages the reactors known as Indian Point 2 and 3 at the Buchanan, New York, facility – Indian Point 1 halted operations in 1974 after failing to meet expectations – reported there was no instant threat to public health because the contamination had not transfered off-site. Cuomo, nonetheless, was not persuaded. He ordered Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to work together with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and employ all essential measures to conduct a thorough investigation and impact assessment to the environment – and of possible hazards to public safety.
This latest leak merely adds to a list of many problems over the years – in 1979, alone, there were 14 “incidents” at Indian Point 2, and nine at Indian Point 3. But even cursory research unveils numerous leaks at the plant, which include a “serious” 100,000 gallon leak in 1980, an 8,000 gallon leak in 1981, and a leak of an unspecified volume in 1995. Tritium-and nickel-63-tainted water leached into the groundwater supply in 2006. In 1982, Indian Point was the focus of the first hearing in history by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to ascertain whether a nuclear plant should simply be closed down as a result of its safety record.
Clearly, the determination left the nuclear facility online, but citizens in the vicinity and a number of scientists have known for sure for decades that a significant incident by human error, or natural causes, is a matter of when, not if. And from the day the plant went online to near future projects concerning the Algonquin Pipeline Project, Indian Point has always tempted fate.
Built in 1962, Indian Point 1 was the first nuclear plant selected for civilian use. It sits on the bank of the Hudson River, in a location known as the Ramapo Fault Zone. Though the fault certainly is not as infamous and well-known as the San Andreas, it still provides serious risks for the aging and mismanaged nuclear plant.
“A study by a group of prominent seismologists suggests that a pattern of active but subtle faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed,” mentioned Columbia University’s Earth Institute in 2008. “Among other things, they say the controversial Indian Point nuclear power plants, 24 miles north of the city, sit astride the previously unidentified intersection of two active seismic zones.”
As Leonardo Seeber, coauthor of the study posted in the Bulletin of Seismological Society of America, explained of a major quake near the plant, “The probability is not zero, and the damage could be great. It could be like something out of a Greek myth.” Lead author Lynn R. Sykes described that geologic attributes, such as a sudden bend in the Hudson River which was in the past unexplained, are in actuality a sign of the layout of the complex of faults in the area. Based on the study:
“Indian Point is situated at the intersection of the two most striking linear features marking the seismicity and also in the midst of a large population that is at risk in case of an accident. This is clearly one of the least favorable sites in our study area from an earthquake hazard and risk perspective.”
While Entergy, which is the owner of the facility, is currently trying to re-license Indian Point 2 and 3, as outlined by the Earth Institute, the New York Attorney General notified an NRC panel in 2008 that “New data developed in the last 20 years disclose a substantially higher likelihood of significant earthquake activity in the vicinity of [Indian Point] that could exceed the earthquake design for the facility.” Entergy had not offered “new data on earthquakes past 1979.”
In 2011, the NRC rated nuclear plants across the country for their potential for core reactor damage, according to seismic risk. As MSNBC reported, Indian Point 3 topped the list, and its risk potential had amplified 72 % over earlier rankings:
“The chance of an earthquake causing core damage at Indian Point 3 is estimated at 1 in 10,000 each year. Under NRC guidelines, that’s right on the verge of requiring ‘immediate concern requiring adequate protection’ of the public … The odds take into consideration two key factors: the likelihood for serious quake, and the strength of design of the plant.”
Victor Gilinsky, an energy consultant and former associate of the NRC, penned an op-ed in the New York Times in December 2011 titled, “Indian Point: The Next Fukushima?” whereby he stated, “A severe accident at Indian Point, whose 2 reactors [that remain in operation] opened in 1974 and 1976, is a remote but real possibility. We’ve had two severe accidents with large releases of radioactivity in the past. The Chernobyl incident was dismissed by Western countries on the grounds that it was the product of Soviet sloppiness and ‘couldn’t happen here.’ But the Fukushima incident involved reactors constructed to American designs.
“The essential characteristic of this technology is that the reactor’s uranium fuel – about 100 tons in a typical plant – melts quickly without cooling water. The containment structures bordering the reactors – even the formidable-looking domes at Indian Point – were not developed to hold melted fuel because safety regulators 40 years ago deemed a meltdown impossible.
“They were wrong, and now we know that radioactive material in the melted fuel can escape and contaminate a very large area for decades or more. It doesn’t make sense to allow such a threat to persist a half-hour’s drive from our nation’s largest city.”
Even if earthquake risk were not enough to make continuing operations at Indian Point sufficiently questionable, the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project to deploy a high-pressure gas pipeline extension – running through the facility’s property – should be. Regardless of challenges to halt or redirect the project, which, based on Law360 was originally approved by both the NRC and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on January 28, 2016, the project obtained the green light. Though the details and controversy about the AIM extension are too lengthy to cover here, one brief detailed description reported by Truthout in April 2015 described the basics:
“Paul Blanch is a professional engineer with nearly five decades of experience in nuclear safety, engineering operations and federal regulatory requirements. He has security clearance for his work, and is a nuclear industry supporter. He has worked with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission since its creation and with utility corporations across the United States, which includes Entergy.” In other words, as the Pontiac Tribune earlier reported, Blanch is by all accounts an industry insider.
Blanch informed Truthout, “I’ve had over 45 years of nuclear experience and [experience in] safety issues. I have never seen [a situation] that essentially puts 20 million residents at risk, plus the entire economics of the United States by making a large area surrounding Indian Point uninhabitable for generations. I’m not an alarmist and haven’t been known as an alarmist, but the possibility of [this] gas line interacting with [this] plant could easily cause a Fukushima type of release.”
Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have been actively critical of the AIM Pipeline extension through Indian Point property – for which a full-risk analysis has never been concluded. Governor Cuomo is staunchly opposed to Entergy’s requests to the NRC to extend the two reactor’s operating licenses for an additional 20 years. So far, they have all run into brick walls.
Possibly Cuomo’s call for an investigation over this latest radioactive leak from Indian Point Energy Center into the groundwater could possibly produce results; but if past opposition can be a sign, it is not likely.
For now, the safety of tens of millions of citizens in and around the New York City metropolis continues to be in the hands – and at the whim – of an industry aiming on pushing forward, no matter the potential costs.