“WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Experts will study the contours of the earth and rock beneath the Indian Point nuclear power plants to see if the slightly radioactive water that has been found underground could end up in the public drinking supply or the Hudson River, the plants’ owner said Wednesday.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns the plants in Buchanan, said Wednesday that low levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope, have been found in water at the bottom of six sampling wells on the Indian Point property.
Spokesmen said the tritium may be the result of a leak from Indian Point 2’s spent fuel pool, first detected in August.
In one of the wells, the amount of tritium is slightly above the federal standard permitted for drinking water, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan. However, none of the wells, which are 20-30 feet deep, are used for drinking water or for anything other than sampling groundwater, said Entergy spokesman Jim Steets.
Tritium, which is used in a range of products from watch faces to nuclear bombs, is present in nature in tiny amounts and is also a byproduct of the Indian Point reactors.
“You’re going to find tritium around, in the ground, in the drains, because it’s a byproduct of the way the plant operates,” Steets said. “It’s harmless there because nobody’s drinking it and there’s no chance it’s going to end up in those concentrations in drinking water elsewhere.
“That’s not to say we don’t feel we have to do something about it,” he added. Entergy has hired a hydrologist to determine how water moves, unseen, under the Indian Point installation.
Steets said previous studies have shown that water moves parallel to the Hudson and not into it, “but since then we’ve put buildings on the site so we have to look to see how that may have impacted the hydrology.”
The new study will help Entergy determine where to dig more wells to test the water, he said.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the sampling that detected the tritium was part of the continuing investigation into the discovery in August of slightly radioactive water on the outside of the underground wall of the spent fuel pool at Indian Point 2.
The water is believed to have leaked from a 40-foot-deep pool, which holds the highly radioactive fuel assemblies that have been used in the nuclear reactor. But experts are not sure if there is a new leak or if the contaminated water could have come from a previous, already-repaired leak and just remained for years in the ground.
Senator Hillary Clinton, who was briefed Tuesday about the leak, said she would register her “serious concerns” during a meeting next week with NRC Chairman Nils Diaz.
Lisa Rainwater of the environmental group Riverkeeper, which campaigns for the shutdown of Indian Point, said at least Indian Point 2 should be closed immediately to stop the production of spent fuel for the pool.
“It doesn’t make sense to keep generating waste to put in a pool that’s leaking,” she said.
Steets said only a liter or two of the water is recovered every day. Entergy is planning to use remote controlled cameras in the pool — and later a diver, if necessary — to look for the source of a leak.
“This is going to take some time,” Sheehan said. “The important thing now is for Indian Point to get a handle on the extent of leakage and, if in fact the pool is leaking, to stop that leak.”“
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