Local legislators, public still wary of Indian Point release
Although the vast majority of people who have commented on a planned discharge of low-grade radioactive water from the former nuclear plant at Indian Point into the Hudson River oppose the move, members of a state committee said the releases would not be out of the ordinary.
The 26-member Indian Point Decommissioning Oversight Board spent the bulk of its April 27 meeting outlining how discharges of water from the plant’s spent-fuel pools into the river were a regular occurrence during Indian Point’s 60 years of existence, and how the discharges were and will continue to be far below limits established by federal agencies.
Tom Congdon, the executive deputy and deputy chair of the state Department of Public Service, who chairs the board, said the amount of radiation the public would absorb from the projected release would be “less than the radiological exposure one gets from eating a banana.”
Holtec International, which is decommissioning the plant, delayed a plan to release 45,000 gallons of water in May.
That and subsequent planned releases sparked wide opposition, and the Oversight Board added a virtual meeting on April 25 to accommodate the number of people who wanted to comment.
While Congdon acknowledged that there have been questions about whether the federal standards are outdated, and if the standards are accurate if applied to women, children and the elderly, he said the amount of radioactive tritium that would be discharged is extremely low. In order to exceed the Environmental Protection Agency limits for the amount of tritium allowed in drinking water, Congdon said that someone would have to drink two liters of discharged water a day for a year.
“Concentrations matter,” he said. “The numbers matter. We’re talking about very, very small concentrations.”
A presentation by a representative of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission outlined the frequent discharges from Indian Point since 2005, and the low levels of tritium in each release.
Seven communities upriver from the Highlands get their drinking water from the Hudson River, and Rich Burroni, a Holtec representative, said that water sampling by the company and the state Department of Health at Roseton, south of Poughkeepsie, has not detected any noticeable tritium.
Despite such assurances, elected officials at the meeting urged Holtec to consider other disposal options. Dr. Rich Becker, supervisor of the Town of Cortlandt, noted that it’s not unusual for medications to be taken off the market even after being approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He also noted the new, lower limits the EPA is advising for PFAS in drinking water. “The science changes,” he said.
Burroni said that, including the 620,000 gallons of water in the two spent fuel pools, the amount of tritiated water that would be released is between 1.3 and 1.5 million gallons. The releases are scheduled to occur in September, April 2024, June 2024 and August 2025.
State Assembly Member Dana Levenberg and State Sen. Pete Harckham, who are both members of the Oversight Board, are co-sponsoring legislation in Albany that would prevent Holtec or any other entity from discharging radioactive materials into the river. They asked why the releases weren’t scheduled during colder months, when people would not be swimming and paddling in the Hudson.
Burroni said that since the discharges are safe, it doesn’t matter if they happen when people are swimming in the Hudson. “It really makes no difference,” he said. “What we discharge to the river is what we discharge to the river; it’s going to be less than or equal to 1 percent of what the NRC tells us.”
Other methods of dealing with the water received pushback from members of the Oversight Board.
A proposal to load the water on barges and dump it far into the Atlantic Ocean was dismissed by John Sipos, an attorney with the Department of Public Service, as being a violation of international law.
Storing the unfiltered water in tanks on-site and waiting for it to become less radioactive — tritium has a half-life of 12.5 years, meaning that it takes that long for it to become half as radioactive — was not seen as an option because 5 percent to 10 percent of the tanks eventually leak, which would send untreated, unfiltered water into the river. “All you’re doing is delaying the inevitable,” said Dave Lochbaum, a retired nuclear engineer who serves on the board.
While the EPA is preventing Holtec from releasing tritiated water into Cape Cod Bay from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant, an agency representative said that was because Holtec had not provided enough information for a permit. That is not an issue at Indian Point.
Burroni said the delay at Pilgrim has forced Holtec to lay off workers there. Last month, he warned that if the planned releases continue to be delayed at Indian Point, layoffs might occur here as well, a point not lost on Harckham.
“It’s not helpful to the process, when I get calls from labor leaders, whom I’ve worked with for many years, saying ‘Pete, Holtec is telling us that if you don’t stop talking about the water, they’re going to have to lay us all off,’” he said.
Following the meeting, Levenberg said in a statement that the public still doesn’t have satisfactory answers about the potential impacts of the discharges.
“The safe decommissioning of Indian Point remains the No. 1 issue that constituents write to me about,” said the legislator, whose district includes Indian Point and Philipstown. “Arguments like ‘We’ve been doing this for years’ and ‘We are all exposed to lots of radiation’ are offensive to people who have lost loved ones to cancer, or are dealing with children with genetic abnormalities. Ideally, we should be trying to eliminate exposure whenever possible and seeking alternatives to exposing people to unnecessary radiation.”