Nuclear reactors are decommissioned. The rest of the cleanup is a massive deconstruction job, a lot of which involves low-level or non-radioactive material. Items like laundry and workers’ gear are considered low-level. Some of the buildings on the property fall into the non-radioactive category.
Not that the Indian Point Energy Center site in Westchester County is benign. It is not. Forty years of use has left radioactive particles in the environment and on surfaces, which is why dust control is so important.
Most spectacular of all is the pool of radioactive water underneath the reactor. Current plans call for capping it off and allowing the water to continue to make its way to the Hudson River. This is allowable under the regulations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Holtec, the company that now owns the closed reactors, is known for cutting corners. Their current plan for getting rid of the water in the fuel pools is to dump it into the Hudson.
Seven towns draw their water from the Hudson River. However, since these towns are up-river from Indian Point, the commission does not recognize them. The agency only regulates discharges downstream from the reactors, and disregards the fact that the Hudson is a tidal estuary, which flows both ways.
Keep in mind that nuclear reactors are allowed to dump liquid and gaseous radioactive waste into the water and air in specified amounts. These discharges are labeled “below regulatory concern.” The same standards continue to apply even though the reactors are shut.
In fact, since the amounts are cumulative for the year, the water in the spent fuel pools could be pumped out at once as long as the concentrated radioactivity is below the annual permit.
Needless to say, this is a great community concern, and will be on the agenda of the Decommissioning Oversight Board.
Another major concern for the community is the 42-inch diameter, high-pressure gas pipeline that runs adjacent to the fuel pools and a nearby elementary school. The oversight board heard testimony from pipeline expert Rick Kuprewicz that the science was known and he did not see any danger to the pipeline during deconstruction work as long as normal safety procedures were observed.
This directly contradicted his earlier testimony to the regulatory commission. People in the community have made it clear they do not feel safe with the pipeline in operation while deconstruction is ongoing. They plan to continue their work to have the pipeline shut down.
The oversight board — composed of representatives from various state agencies — will play an important role in supervising Holtec and guaranteeing the final cleanup of the site. It has the regulatory power of the Public Service Commission behind it, and to some extent, the power of New York state. No other state has this arrangement.
Citizen oversight remains as important now as it was when the reactors were operating. As you can see, many things that are allowed under the regulations do not protect public health and safety.
We must all stay informed and active and working together to communicate with the oversight board in shaping the important decisions they will be making. We are in this for the long haul and must pay attention.
Dates for the future oversight board meetings are July 27, Sept 21 and Dec 7. Add them to your calendar now.