Legislators seek to stop nuclear plant draining

Two state legislators have introduced a bill that, if passed, would prevent radioactive water from being released into the Hudson River from the former Indian Point nuclear plant.

Dana Levenberg, whose Assembly district includes Philipstown, and Pete Harckham, whose Senate district includes Peekskill, introduced the legislation, which would make it “unlawful for any person or entity, directly or indirectly, to throw, drain, run or otherwise discharge any radiological agent into the waters of the state.”

The bill was created in order to prevent Holtec International, the company decommissioning Indian Point, near Peekskill, from emptying the spent fuel cooling pools into the river. Although the discharge would be filtered, it would still contain tritium, a radioactive material that is extremely difficult to remove. Holtec has not announced how much water would be released or how much tritium it could contain.

If passed, the bill would also apply to New York’s three remaining active nuclear plants on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.

When it was operational, Indian Point discharged radioactive materials into the Hudson. In 2009, Entergy, which owned the plant at the time, emptied the cooling pool at Indian Point 1, which had closed in 1974, into the river. But Harckham said that does not justify any future release.

“We’ve got to stop treating our waterways like industrial dumping grounds,” said Harckham, who chairs the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee. “This is not the late 1800s or early 1900s, where we’d locate our factories alongside rivers so we can just dump whatever sludge and say goodbye to it. We know better now.

“The Hudson River Valley estuary is an incredibly sensitive ecosystem, it’s an incredibly sensitive economic driver of our region, and we need to think twice before we just, as rote practice, allow the dumping of tritium into the water.”

In a statement, Levenberg added that “too much is still unknown about the possible impacts of discharging radioactive waste into our waterways. We wouldn’t want people to feel inhibited in their recreation or in moving to our communities because of the stigma of radioactive wastewater. And ultimately, the State of New York should have control over what is released into our waterways.”

Violations of the proposed law would trigger fines of $25,000 per day, $50,000 per day for a second violation and $150,000 per day per additional violation.

Harckham said that because legislators in Albany are focused on negotiations for the 2024 budget, which must be completed by April 1, he doesn’t expect much immediate movement on the bill. But once the budget is complete, “we intend to push it,” he said. Holtec plans to discharge the water by September, so the bill would need to pass in both chambers before the legislative session ends on June 8.

If adopted, the bill would almost certainly face legal challenges. The Atomic Energy Act gives the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) responsibility for overseeing radioactive releases from commercial nuclear plants.

Further, any releases must first pass NRC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements, which state that radioactive levels must be as low as “reasonably” possible. At the most recent meeting of the Indian Point Decommissioning Task Force, several members said that only federal entities could stop the planned discharge.

But Harckham noted that Massachusetts has a state law barring radiological discharges and that the EPA has put a hold there on a Holtec plan to discharge radioactive water from the shuttered Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant into Cape Cod Bay until a third-party can verify that the release would be safe.

“We feel like we have a shot at this,” said Harckham. “If it comes down to the courts deciding, then the courts will decide, but I don’t think that it’s absolutely a federal issue. We have an obligation and the ability to protect the waterways of our state.”

A NRC representative declined comment on the proposed legislation.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Skidmore College graduate has reported for The Current since 2014 and writes the "Out There" column. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Areas of Expertise: Environment, outdoors

2 replies on “Bill Would Ban River Discharge”

  1. Thank you to our Assembly Member Dana Levenberg and to state Sen. Pete Harckham for proposing a bill to stop Holtec from dumping radioactive water from the decommissioned Indian Point nuclear power plant into the Hudson River.

    We are so lucky to have Dana Levenberg as our Assembly member in Philipstown and I sure wish Pete Harckham was our state senator. Sen. Rob Rolison, please take note: We in Philipstown do not want the river used as a dumping ground for radioactive waste. Please support Sen. Harckham’s bill.

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