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Study: Indian Point Threatens Water Supply

by Cliff Weathers

The Indian Point Nuclear Facility in Westchester County threatens the drinking water to more than 11 million people in the region, according to a report released by an environmental advocacy group.

Leaked radioactive contaminants in the event of even a minor mishap could put the health of 11.3 million people at risk, says the study from Environment New York. The report also shows that Indian Point threatens water supplies for more than twice as many people compared to any other nuclear facility in the nation.

“The danger of nuclear power is too close to home. Here in New York state, the drinking water for nearly 10 million people is too close to an active nuclear power plant,” said Eric Whalen, Field Organizer with Environment New York. “An accident like the one in Fukushima, Japan or a radioactive leak could spew cancer-causing radioactive waste into the drinking water of millions of New Yorkers.”

The Fukushima meltdown exposed the many risks of nuclear power. After the disaster, airborne radiation left areas around the plant uninhabitable, and even contaminated drinking water more than 130 miles from the plant, and threatening Tokyo.

Indian Point has a long history of leaks and accidental releases of radioactive material. Recently, one of Indian Point’s nuclear reactors needed to be shut down to repair a pump which was leaking radioactive coolant.

According to the report, entitled “Too Close to Home: Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water,” the drinking water sources for 11.3 million people in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut lie within 50 miles of Indian Point; a distance dictated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a possible impact area.

It wouldn’t take a full-blown accident for Indian Point to contaminate water supplies according to Environment New York. Whalen says that common leaks at plants can also threaten drinking water. And as our nuclear power facilities become older and less sound, such leaks are becoming more common with 75 percent of U.S. plants experiencing tritium leaks. Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen that causes cancer and genetic defects.

“Indian Point is so close to our water supply that virtually any radiation exposure could contaminate our drinking water and increase the risk of cancer and other illnesses,” said Whalen.

“There are far cheaper, cleaner, and less-risky ways to get our energy,” concluded Whalen. “New York and the United States should move away from nuclear power immediately and invest in safer alternatives such as efficiency and wind and solar power.”

Also, it was reported this week that Indian Point and other such power facilities across the nation will have to be reassess their vulnerability after a Nuclear Regulatory Commission study showed “an increased likelihood” of ground movement than earlier studies had indicated.

“We will expect U.S. nuclear power plant owners to apply the model to their facilities to develop a new site-specific seismic risk analysis,” said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A study last year by the NRC stated that the Indian Point 3 reactor has the highest risk of catastrophic failure in the event of a regional earthquake.

The commission calculated the odds of catastrophic failure for all nuclear reactors under its watch, and found the Westchester nuclear reactor to be the most susceptible to its core being damaged and the public being exposed to harmful levels of radiation.

At the typical U.S. nuclear reactor, there’s a 1 in 74,176 chance each year that the core could be damaged from the effects an earthquake (the effects of a secondary events, such as a tsunami are not calculated). But the chance of a core damage from a quake at Indian Point 3 is calculated to be a mere 1 in 10,000 each year.

And according to NRC specifications, that’s dangling on the edge of what it deems having “immediate concern regarding adequate protection” of the public.”

Last year, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory stated that the New York City area is past due for a significant earthquake. Won-Young Kim told Metro New York that “it can happen anytime soon,” and that “we can expect it any minute, we just don’t know when and where.”

The New York City area sits on top of the Ramapo Fault Zone, which spans more than 185 miles in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

A 2008 study by Lamont-Doherty argued that a magnitude 6 or 7 earthquake was destined to originate from the Ramapo Fault Zone. The study also discovered that there was another fault zone extending from the Ramapo Fault Zone into Southwestern Connecticut and running just one mile from Indian Point.

However, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which runs the plant, often states that the reactors can withstand a significant earthquake.

The Indian Point 2 reactor is rated the 25th most susceptible to the effects of a significant earthquake with a 1 in 30,303 chance each year.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly called for the closing of Indian Point and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been fighting federal regulators’ plans for loosening regulations about the storage of nuclear waste at the sites of nuclear reactors.

New York recently joined two other Northeastern states in suing the NRC for expanding the amount of time that radioactive waste can be stored onsite at a nuclear plant after it shuts down. Regulations had limited the time to 30 years until 2010, but the limit was recently expanded to 60 years.

Cliff Weathers publishes NYaltnews, a statewide progressive news site.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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