Alarming leak at U.S. nuke plant


We’re coming up in a few short weeks on the 4th anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. It was certainly a series of unfortunate — if completely foreseeable — events that essentially caused a meltdown at the four-unit reactor…a massive earthquake, followed by a tsunami which knocked out an atomic plant that had been poorly sited along the Pacific coastline.

Still, the Fukushima tragedy — with areas in northern Japan that are essentially uninhabitable to this day — should have served as a wake-up call to the nuclear power industry in the nation that invented atomic power, the United States. For one thing, many of our plants — just like Fukushima — are poorly located; consider, for example, California’s San Onofre facility, which is similarly sited on edge of the Pacific, and also perilously close to a major earthquake fault line. Perhaps even more important is the age of America’s nuclear power plants. A growing number of facilities have surpassed or nearing the half-century mark, yet utilities remain reluctant to take these aging facilities offline and replace them with safer forms of alternative energy.

One facility that’s especially worthy of attention is the Indian Point plant in New York State, just 25 or so short miles up the Hudson River from the nation’s largest city. Since Indian Point’s initial unit first opened in the early 1960s, the surrounding area has grown more suburban and more densely populated — even as safety and maintenance issues surrounding the plant have grown more serious. In recent years, nearby residents have rallied for Indian Point to be closed, to no avail.

And now this:

The amount of radioactive tritium leaking from the Indian Point nuclear power plant is growing, officials said Wednesday, prompting Gov. Cuomo to launch a multiagency probe into operations at the troubled plant.

New samples from groundwater monitoring wells show 80% higher concentrations of tritium compared with when the leak was first reported Saturday.

Cuomo had already ordered the state health and environmental conservation commissioners to investigate the incident. But on Wednesday, he ordered a more sweeping investigation that also includes the Department of Public Service.

Not surprisingly, the current owners of Indian Point — Entergy Corp. — insist that the problem is the result of a minor accident that occurred while transferring contaminated water and that the public should not be alarmed. But environmentalists and public officials are pointing out that the incident is merely the latest and most egregious of a string of mishaps at the aging facility:

“The news just keeps getting worse,” said Paul Gallay, president of the watchdog group Riverkeeper. “Our concerns go beyond the spike in tritium levels. This is about a disturbing recurrence of serious malfunctions — seven over the last eight months.”

Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said the contaminated water was not going into the nearby Hudson River or sources of drinking water.

Let’s hope not; even the slightest contamination of the Hudson by a substance as dangerous as tritium should be a cause for public concern. But let’s not forget the bigger picture here: This long-running series of minor and mid-range accidents at Indian Point should also set off all sorts of alarm bells that the risk of a much more serious incident is rising as well. And any evacuation of the safety zone around Indian Point — now home to tens of thousands of people — would be an unimaginable nightmare.

The energy that public officials and Entergy are spending on investigating all the glitches and malfunctions should instead be invested in shutting down this old and badly located plant. What officials should instead be investigating is how many other American nuclear plants also should be taken out of service because of age and safety concerns. In other words, how many other Indian Points are there?

Read the latest on the radioactive leak at Indian Point from the New York Daily News:

Learn the story about how I fought Big Oil on its radioactive pollution in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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