After reading the April 23 Community View — “Public can rest assured by Indian Point,” by Jim Knubel, former chief nuclear officer for the New York Power Authority, previous owner of Indian Point 3 — I can only wonder how many times I have read or heard an Entergy spokesperson, either current or retired, assure us that something that nobody expected to happen, that did happen, is not a problem worth being concerned about.
In this case it is the ongoing leak or leaks of proven carcinogenic elements like strontium 90 that have seeped from the spent-fuel pool at Indian Point 2, at least since last August. No one knows if there is only one leak or multiple leaks because after more than eight months, the source is still unknown. At a Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting a few weeks ago, it was actually revealed that this is not just a leak, but that this contaminated water had to have pooled under the plant in order to then migrate toward and into the Hudson. Nobody knows how deep the pool is, so nobody knows exactly how much irradiated water is in the pool.
That is not reassuring to me. It is also not reassuring to see numbers with a lot of decimal places to tell us that the amount of carcinogen being discharged into the environment is very small. I don’t understand numbers that well, but I know that the levels of SR-90 discovered in test wells were three times the limit allowed for drinking water under Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Perhaps that is why this industrial pollution was not reported to the EPA.
Since as far as anyone knows at this time, the water is not going directly into a known drinking-water source, it is being positioned as just another minor annoyance. Perhaps the writer isn’t aware of the 2005 report from the National Academy of Sciences that says that no exposure to ionizing radiation can be considered harmless because, even at low levels, exposure to radioactive materials can cause DNA damage and lead to a higher likelihood of cancer. At the NRC meeting, the NRC regional director said that he knew of the report and agreed with its conclusions.
Maybe the writer also doesn’t know that children are particularly susceptible to damage from industrial toxins. A recent report from the Radiation and Public Health Project, which has collected more than 230 baby teeth from children in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland, found a higher level of strontium 90 in the teeth of children living closer to Indian Point.
Indian Point is an aging piece of machinery. As in any piece of aging machinery, problems that no one anticipated occur. In this case, the problem can result in radioactive contamination in the most densely populated area of our country. The former NRC regional director told me so at a public meeting a couple of years ago. In response to a specific question, he said that no one could guarantee that any nuclear plant would not have a radiation release.
Soon, Indian Point will have to file for a 20-year extension of its operating license. It is not at all reassuring that the NRC said that its re-licensing standards do not consider that Indian Point could not be built at that site today because of population density or that the Indian Point evacuation plan has been judged unworkable by James Lee Witt, former Federal Emergency Management Agency head, but approved by Michael Brown. At the recent meeting, the NRC also said that the ongoing leak of radioactive materials would likely not be considered as a factor in the re-licensing procedure.
This does not make sense to me, and I am not reassured.