45,000 gallons to be released from nuclear reactor pool
Holtec International, the firm responsible for decommissioning the Indian Point nuclear power plant near Peekskill, said on Tuesday (April 4) that it would begin releasing low-grade radioactive water from one of the spent-fuel pools into the Hudson River in May, months earlier than planned.
The announcement came in an email addressed to the Indian Point Decommissioning Oversight Board; Holtec had earlier committed to providing 30 days’ notice before discharging wastewater into the river.
“I was kind of incredulous,” Richard Webster, an environmental attorney who serves on the oversight board, said of Holtec’s announcement. “It seems totally unnecessary and just fans the flames.”
Earlier, Holtec said it planned to begin emptying the plant’s pools in August. The firm said this week it plans to release 45,000 gallons from the Unit 2 reactor to “commence needed cleaning work in the pool ahead of the spent-fuel pool dewatering in the August/September time frame mentioned.”
Holtec said that the water would be sampled, monitored and filtered before it was released, although it will still contain boron and tritium. That will leave 265,000 gallons in Unit 2, which has been emptied of spent fuel rods, and 310,000 gallons in Unit 3, which is scheduled to be emptied of rods by November. Unit 1’s wastewater was released into the river in 2009.
State Sen. Pete Harckham and Assembly Member Dana Levenberg (whose district includes Indian Point and Philipstown) in February co-sponsored a bill that would ban radioactive releases into “the waters of the state.” On Wednesday, each denounced Holtec’s plan.
“We’ve been having these discussions centered on seeing if we can find alternatives to discharging into the Hudson,” Harckham said. “And then for them all of a sudden to say, ‘Not only are we doing it in August, we’re going to go ahead and start in May,’ that’s a real slap in the face to the community.
“The advisable thing would be for [Holtec] to read the room, understand the community’s outrage, pause these activities and continue to discuss it,” he said.
Levenberg called Holtec’s announcement “an attempt to sidestep the efforts of state representatives to explore alternatives.”
“My constituents are already overburdened with the negative environmental externalities left behind by industrial infrastructure, and we should not be treated like pawns in this process,” she said in a statement.
Harckham said that he planned to renew his push to get a ban passed but said lawmakers are focused on negotiating the state budget, which was due April 1.
The planned release is similar to other discharges of radioactive wastewater from Indian Point into the Hudson when the plant was in operation. But past discharges weren’t met with similar outcries, which Webster attributes to more recent efforts by environmental groups to decontaminate the river.
“The river got cleaner, and people expected a cleaner environment,” he said. “It’s also because usually the trade-off was that we got power in exchange for discharges. But now we’re not getting any power.”
In the past month, the legislatures of Westchester and Rockland counties passed resolutions condemning the planned discharge. The Putnam County Legislature voted Tuesday to ask the federal government to make sure any release was safe but stopped short of calling for it not to take place. The Beacon City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution opposing the discharge on Monday (April 10).
Harckham noted that while Holtec said it needs to release the 45,000 gallons for maintenance and cleaning, that requirement had never come up during meetings of the Decommissioning Oversight Board. “It reeks of bad faith,” he said.
Webster noted that, without state legislation, only federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have the authority to stop any release. The EPA has put a hold on a Holtec plan to discharge radioactive water from the shuttered Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Massachusetts into Cape Cod Bay until a third party can verify that the release would be safe.
The Pilgrim plant is one of two other nuclear power plants in the Northeast that Holtec is decommissioning; the other is Oyster Creek in New Jersey. Last week, Holtec told the NRC that it would take four years longer than planned to finish decommissioning Pilgrim and Oyster Creek, citing inflation and “poor market performance.” All three projects are being paid for by trust funds that were set up while the plants were in operation and funded by the public via their power bills. What Holtec doesn’t spend, it gets to keep.
Please stop using the word “release” in this story. The correct word is “dump.” What is never mentioned in these discussions is that, if the water were simply stored for about 100 years, all the tritium radiation would fade away. Holtec wants to dump this water while it is still able to harm living things, purely to injure us while saving a few dollars.