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Discharge of Radioactive Wastewater from Indian Point Under Scrutiny

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April 5, 2023

By Rick Pezzullo—

Elected officials, municipal leaders and environmental groups are collectively criticizing a plan to dump one million gallons of radioactive wastewater into the Hudson River as part of the decommissioning of the Indian Point nuclear power plants.

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Holtec International, which was approved by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to take over the 240-acre site in Buchanan from Entergy in Nov. 2021, informed the Indian Point Energy Center Decommissioning Oversight Board Tuesday that it intends to discharge the wastewater from the plants in May—three months earlier than it told the board in early Feb.

The Aug. time frame had already raised the ire of area lawmakers, galvanizing many boards, including the Greenburgh Town Board and Westchester County Board of Legislators, to pass resolutions strongly opposing the effort, even though the practice has been in effect for years, according to Holtec.

“During operations and decommissioning, nuclear power plants, including Indian Point, periodically release treated water. These releases are regulated by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are typically indistinguishable from the natural radioactivity present in the environment,” stated Patrick O’Brien, Director of Community Affairs and Communications for Holtec. “We have permits from both the EPA and State of New York that govern these treated releases and these continue to occur according to our permits.”

After nearly 60 years generating approximately 25% of electricity consumed annually in the lower Hudson Valley and New York City, the last remaining nuclear reactor in operation, Unit 3, powered off April 30, 2021. Located on the former property of an amusement park, Unit 1 first went into service in 1962. Unit 2 operated from 1974 to 2020, and Unit 3 was in service since 1976.

Several health professionals and environmentalists have contended the discharge of the wastewater from the spent fuel cooling pools poses a serious threat to public health and the entire ecosystem.

“Holtec’s plan to dump radioactive water into the Hudson River is ludicrously dangerous — expediting the ploy is absurd,” stated Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Santosh Nandabalan. “Protecting our health and environment must take priority over corporate expediency.”

“This is an affront to the people who love the Hudson but fear for their health and the damage tritium discharges can bring to the river and to their communities,” said Tracy Brown, President of Riverkeeper. “We were hoping to work in good faith with Holtec to find an appropriate solution for disposal of the tritiated water, but it seems their hurry to make profit takes precedence over the people and health of the river.”

Westchester County Executive George Latimer called Holtec’s decision to speed up the process “outrageous.”

“The impacted communities have far too much at stake for any treated water dumping to occur on a timeline quicker than what was expected,” Latimer said. “It is a mistake for Holtec to act before full public vetting of all options and acting without convincing residents and local governments why the other options have been overridden for consideration.”

State Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg have proposed legislation that would ban the release of radioactive waste into the Hudson River.

“While we have been in the middle of communications with Holtec centered on finding alternatives to dumping millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater into the Hudson River, its decision to expedite this action from August to May is simply an act of bad faith and corporate arrogance. It is no wonder that the communities along the river and even beyond continue to be outraged by Holtec’s handling of Indian Point’s decommissioning,” Harckham stated.

“Holtec’s timing shows profound disrespect for our community, particularly as we are approaching the season when so many are turning to the river for fishing, swimming, boating, and so much more,” Levenberg stated. “It is clear that the decision to move faster than planned is an attempt to sidestep the efforts of state representatives to explore alternatives.”

The Oversight Board and Riverkeeper have both asked Holtec to give 30 days’ advanced notice before the discharge begins. In addition, Riverkeepr has recommended that the tritiated water be stored on site for at least one year, which would lessen the radioactivity of tritium by 50 percent.

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