Hudson becomes radioactive


To the editor:

Holtec International disclosed its plan to dump a million gallons of radioactive water into the Hudson at the Feb. 2 meeting of the Indian Point Decommissioning Oversight Board.

The company describes this as the “best option” for the waste, and it could happen as early as August. The Hudson River is already a federally designated toxic Superfund site.

How did it come to pass that Holtec is within its legal rights and permits to discharge waste at the same rate as it did when operating, and it does not need federal, state or local approval to dump the contaminated water?

How is it possible that this practice is standard for nuclear plants?

Unfortunately, the Clean Water Act only prohibits high-level radioactive waste discharge: The act prohibits the discharge of “any radiological, chemical, or biological warfare agent, any high-level radioactive waste, or any medical waste” into a variety of waters, and entities disposing of sewage sludge that could pollute such waters must abide by pollution control standards.

Neil Sheehan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s public affairs officer, says “virtually all nuclear plants in the U.S. discharge water containing low levels of radioactivity to the waterway on which they are located.”

The radioactive water contains low levels of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen and a byproduct of nuclear fission that could accumulate in the Hudson River. 

Riverkeeper, a local environmental advocacy group, made a Feb. 10 blog statement: “It’s time to draw the line against using the Hudson as a dumping ground for tritium, a radioactive isotope found in the wastewater. Ingestion of tritium is linked to cancer, and children and pregnant women are most vulnerable. Riverkeeper will be releasing an action for the public soon. Together, we can protect and restore the Hudson River for the health and safety of all who depend on it.”

There are only three methods typically used for tainted water. The most expedient one is to dump small batches of about 18,000 gallons intermittently, which is the method favored by Holtec. The second way is to slowly evaporate the radioactive water and release it into the atmosphere, which Edwin Lyman — director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy organization — says is “hardly any better than pouring it into the river.”

The third procedure entails transporting the contaminated substance to another state, which could pose an environmental justice issue depending on where it lands.

Lyman said a fourth option would be leaving the radioactive water onsite to decay over time into non-harmful helium.

“Keep storing indefinitely and eventually the problem will solve itself,” he said.

For tritium, this process would take just over 24 years. Lyman considers this the best option because it minimizes the effects on the environment. It’s also viable because other radioactive material — spent fuel generated from operating the plant — remains on-site and will take hundreds of thousands of years to decay. This material includes plutonium and uranium.

Federal regulations allow 60 years for decommissioning. That spent fuel could remain at the site even after the decommissioning is completed, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The next meeting for the Indian Point Decommissioning Oversight Board will take place April 27 at 6 p.m. at Cortlandt Town Hall. Participants have the option to attend virtually.

Let’s let our voices be heard!

Debbi Dolan