Leak at Indian Point Causes Surge in Groundwater Radiation Levels

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.

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Indian Point is located on the Hudson River, just 25 miles north of New York City. Photo via Google Maps.

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.

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Workers remove a piece of equipment in the spent fuel pool of Unit 3, at the Indian Point Energy Center. Photo credit: Mark Vergari/The Journal News

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

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The exterior of Indian Point 2 at the Indian Point Energy Center. Photo credit: Mark Vergari/The Journal News

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.

Are New York City’s Traffic Lights Going Green?

By 2025, all of New York City’s traffic lights—along with its government buildings and possibly even public housing facilities—could be powered by wind, solar, or some other form of renewable, green energy.

Earlier this month, Mayor de Blasio, issued a call to the energy industry to help the city identify creative solutions to bring reliable, cost-effective green energy to the Big Apple. This Request for Information seeks responses from all entities involved in the renewable sector—from developers and generators to transmission entities and financial institutions—and aims to identify new, rather than existing, renewable energy sources.

This distinction is important: the mayor’s intention is to inspire new clean energy projects, rather than taking from what already exists.

“This is a call to the marketplace: the biggest energy customer you’ll find is ready to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to renewable power,” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement.

Responses to the RFI are due in early September. A formal request for proposals will come later this fall.

Purchasing Power

Solar panels atop Brooklyn home. Via http://www.quixotic-systems.com/images/10th_St.jpg
Solar panels atop Brooklyn home. Via Quixotic Systems.

New York City consumes a lot of energy. Powering the city’s 4,000 government buildings and tens of thousands of streetlights costs upwards of $650 million dollars every year, and is responsible for about 7.5 percent of the entire city’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s 3.2 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent for those who are counting.

[pullquote]”We aim to be the thin edge of the wedge, the beginning of the transformation of the energy market for NYC…”[/pullquote]That’s why de Blasio’s plan is so exciting. Not only could it dramatically reduce the city’s contribution to climate change, but it could actually make it possible for other localities to do the same.

By injecting more than $600 million into the renewable energy industry, the plan could spur innovation, bring down costs, and inspire cities around the world to follow suit.

“We aim to be the thin edge of the wedge, the beginning of the transformation of the energy market for NYC, so that renewables become a major part of our electric grid over the next generation,” said Nilda Mesa, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “The City, as one of the largest energy purchasers in the country, can use its purchasing power to lead the way.”

The renewable energy initiative is part of de Blasio’s One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (OneNYC), wherein the city has pledged to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 (80×50), and emissions from City government operations 35 percent by 2025 (35×25).

One of the Neatest NYC Videos We’ve Ever Seen

If you have 2 minutes, take a look at this video showing how dense Manhattan became between 1800 and 2010.

As described in a great article in the Atlantic’s City Lab, the video tracks neighborhood population densities on Manhattan using historical maps, aerial photographs, and census ward statistics.

City Lab points out two interesting things about the video-

  1. Population densities in Manhattan’s neighborhoods reached their peaked in 1910, fell for 70 years, and have been rising slowly since 1980. But Manhattan’s current population density is nowhere close to what it was in 1910.
  2. Manhattan was completely built up by 1951 (Battery Park City, later built on a landfill, notwithstanding).

The video was produced by the NYU Stern Urbanization Project, based on research by Shlomo Angel and Patrick Lamson-Hall. Angel and Lamson-Hall’s research paper on density in Manhattan is a very interesting read.

And you think New York City is crowded?

Take a look at the NYU Stern Urbanization Project’s youtube channel.

They point out that the urban population of the developing world is projected to grow from 2.5 billion to roughly 7.5 billion in the next 100 years. How will all these new urban residents be accommodated? The average city size in the developing world will have to triple; and/or entirely new cities will need to be built, says NYU.