Radioactive material has leaked into the groundwater below Indian Point nuclear power plant, prompting federal and state investigations, as well as condemnation from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Indian Point is located in Westchester County, approximately 25 miles north of New York City.
According to a statement from Cuomo on February 6th, three monitoring wells at the nuclear facility detected the radioactive material tritium in groundwater. In one of those wells, radioactivity had increased almost 65,000%, which Cuomo referred to as “alarming levels.”
Cuomo also criticized the plant’s owner, the Entergy Corporation, and ordered full investigations at the state level:
This latest failure at Indian Point is unacceptable and I have directed Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to fully investigate this incident and employ all available measures, including working with Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to determine the extent of the release, its likely duration, cause and potential impacts to the environment and public health.
Entergy has stressed that there are no health or safety consequences to the public, saying on Saturday that:
While elevated tritium in the ground onsite is not in accordance with our standards, there is no health or safety consequence to the public, and releases are more than a thousand times below federal permissible limits. The tritium did not affect any source of drinking water onsite or offsite.
Jerry Nappi, a spokesperson for Entergy, told media outlets that the radioactive water “likely reached the ground at Indian Point during recent work activities.”
Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, repeated claims that groundwater contamination at the plant did not pose a threat to public health or to employees. However, The New York Times reports that the agency would “review the recent tritium leakage incident” and study Entergy’s response.
A Familiar Alarm
The problems at Indian Point nuclear facility have a familiar refrain. The aging plant continues to experience challenges like flooding and fires, and in 2015, Indian Point experienced more accidents and temporary shutdowns than it had in almost six years.
This fact has not been lost on Governor Cuomo, who has repeatedly called for a permanent shutdown. In his statement on Saturday, Cuomo said:
This is not the first such release of radioactive water at Indian Point, nor is this the first time that Indian Point has experienced significant failure in its operation and maintenance. This failure continues to demonstrate that Indian Point cannot continue to operate in a manner that is protective of public health and the environment.
And yet, Indian Point remains a complicated but key component of New York’s energy supply. By Entergy’s own estimates, the plant provides about 25% of the electricity supplied to New York City and Westchester County and generates $1.6 billion for the state economy.