“BUCHANAN – Indian Point engineers and scientists say it will take about two months to determine if a leak from the spent fuel storage pool at Indian Point 2 is the cause of raised radiation levels in five underground wells at the site.
“We take this very seriously, but it’s a complex problem,” said Don Leach, the nuclear power plant’s engineering director. “All the known leakage is being contained now.”
The five wells, at varying distances of up to 500 yards from the nuclear reactor, showed trace elements of tritium during recent samplings by Indian Point employees. The company said the wells are not for drinking water, and there was no threat to the public or workers at the site.
State Health Department officials yesterday said the agency had conducted water tests near the site within the past month and found no problems.
“We have analyzed the latest samples for drinking water near the site, and there are no issues with the water quality,” said Jeffrey Hammond, a department spokesman.
Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns the two functioning nuclear reactors at Indian Point, has been working to stop the leak since it was discovered in late August during excavation work around Indian Point 2.
In the next two weeks, Entergy officials said they plan to bring in underwater cameras and possibly a diver to check for cracks in the 400,000-gallon storage tank.
The leak is relatively small, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials, amounting to between 1 and 2 liters of water per day.
Company officials said the only radiological material that has been found away from the leak site is tritium, an element that is relatively weak in terms of hazards, compared with other materials in the storage pool, such as cobalt and cesium.
“Tritium is a naturally occurring element in the environment,” said Leach, adding that he’s been exposed to higher levels of tritium on the ski slopes of Vermont than at the nuclear plant.
Don Mayer, Indian Point’s director of special projects, said the cause of the higher tritium levels found during the recent sampling “is very much up for discussion,” though the concentrations for the five wells were much lower than an earlier sample taken close to the spent-fuel pool.
Three other samples, taken earlier between Indian Point 2 and a steam-powered turbine, showed no evidence of tritium, company officials said.
Mayer said the five recent well samples taken near the turbine showed radiation levels similar to what is given off routinely as part of the giant machine’s operation, which indicates a possibility that the tritium originated there.
The company plans to drill about eight wells, 4 inches in diameter, in the vicinity of Indian Point 2 to gather samples that should show more conclusively how the tritium may or may not be moving underground.
David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said tritium’s transportability in water makes it somewhat dangerous because of the potential that it can get into drinking water off-site.
“It can do a lot of damage on the inside if swallowed, but if you just come in contact with it, your skin is a good protector,” Lochbaum said. “The good news is that it’s still on the Indian Point site and hasn’t apparently moved to neighboring land or water. They’re doing the right thing now, having found it.”
As news of the sample results spread yesterday, elected officials and opponents of Indian Point said residents deserve a clear picture of possible pollution from the nuclear plant.
Lisa Rainwater, a spokeswoman for the environmental organization Riverkeeper, said the area’s water must be protected, whether it’s in the Hudson River or coming out of residents’ faucets.
“We’re becoming dizzy with all the bad news coming out of Indian Point,” Rainwater said, noting Tuesday’s emergency siren notification problems during a test of the 10-mile evacuation zone. “I think enough is enough. We need to not only be looking at the site for tritium, but the sediment in the Hudson River and testing the water supply for the residents in the area. If it comes out clean, fantastic. The point is to act now. Who knows how long it’s been leaking?”
New York’s senators said they also were troubled by the tritium levels.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., whose staff listened in on a multi-agency telephone briefing about the leak Tuesday, vowed to discuss the problem soon with top NRC officials.
“(The) briefing reinforces my serious concerns about the leak, and I plan to communicate directly with NRC Chairman Nils Diaz at our meeting next week,” Clinton said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also wants more federal oversight.
“This leak needs to be fixed right now. Its effects must be identified and mitigated, and thorough monitoring must be instituted to prevent further incidents,” Schumer said. “I will demand that the NRC continue stringent oversight of the problem as Entergy searches for the source of the problem and a permanent solution. I also expect the NRC to keep the public and elected officials fully and promptly informed as it discerns additional information.”
Entergy officials haven’t been able to determine when the leak started but said they’re going to move as quickly as possible to have it repaired.”
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