The recent radioactive leak at New York’s Indian Point nuclear power plant is prompting renewed calls for the site to be shut down, amid growing concerns about the potential damage a nuclear accident could do in one of the most densely populated parts of the country.
In the past year alone there have been a number of mishaps at Indian Point, including a power failure in the reactor core, a transformer fire, an alarm failure, and the escape of radiated water into groundwater. The plant sits about 25 miles north of New York City, so a serious mishap could potentially put millions of people in harm’s way.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen and it should be shut down,” Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, a watchdog organization dedicated to protecting the Hudson River, told CBS News.
Environmental groups call the latest problem just the tip of the iceberg, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is joining with organizations like Riverkeeper, the National Resources Defense Council and others in seeking the permanent closure of the plant.
Earlier this month, Entergy Corporation, which owns Indian Point, reported increased levels of tritium-contaminated water at three monitoring wells, with one well’s radioactivity increasing by as much as 65,000 percent.
Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen that occurs naturally in small doses and is a byproduct of nuclear reactors. It could enter a person’s body by drinking tritiated water, or it can also be inhaled as a gas or absorbed through the skin. Tritium can reach all parts of the body like normal water and is eventually expelled through urine. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says tritium emits “very weak radiation and leaves the body relatively quick.”
Little research has been done on the health effects of exposure to increased levels of tritium. But the NRC states: “Exposure to very small amounts of ionizing radiation is thought to minimally increase the risk of developing cancer, and the risk increases as exposure increases.”
However, Jerry Nappi, a representative for Entergy Corporation, said that the most recent issue at Indian Point would not have any impact on human health or life in the river. “Concentrations would be undetectable in the river,” Nappi told CBS News. “We know from more than 10 years of hydrological studies on the site that it [radioactive contaminants] can’t reach drinking water sources in nearby communities.”
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