As New York’s governor and other critics wage an ongoing campaign to shut the facility down citing leaks and old age, nearby residents explain complicated tale
Indian Point’s two working reactors opened in the early 1970s and have had a lot of people worried for a long time. Five years ago the New York Times wondered if it was “America’s Fukushima” – the Japanese site of the world’s worst radiation crisis since Chernobyl. In February the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, called its operation “unacceptable” – he wants the plant closed.
It’s easy to see the source of his concern. The population density around Indian Point is of more than 2,100 people per square mile, by far the greatest for any of the US’s 61 nuclear power plants. Many of those people live and work in the plant’s shadow with growing unease.
In May 2015, an electrical transformer in the reactor called Unit 3 exploded, causing water to flood a room near the explosion where electrical distribution panels are housed and pouring 3,000 gallons of oil into the Hudson. The Union of Concerned Scientists classified the incident as a “near miss” in its annual review. Last year near misses occurred at eight nuclear facilities in the US.
“Had the flooding not been discovered and stopped in time, the panels could have been submerged, plunging Unit 3 into a dangerous station blackout, in which all alternating current (AC) electricity is lost,” the report’s authors wrote. “A station blackout led to the meltdown of three nuclear reactor cores at Fukushima Dai-ichi in 2011.”
In February, radiation levels at three monitoring wells around the plant spiked, in one spot by 65,000%. Patricia Kakridas, a spokeswoman for Entergy, said the source was likely “water which exited a temporary filtration system that was set up and dismantled in late January 2016” in preparation for refueling; the company said radioactive material won’t leach into drinking water.
And in March, when the plant was being refueled, a breaker tripped and cut power in one of the reactors; when the diesel generators kicked in, they died while trying to restart the first electrical system. Fortunately a second backup worked.
Because the plant is cooled in large part by water from the Hudson – up to 2.5bn gallons a day – it kills about 1 billion fish and other aquatic organisms a year.
Not everyone wants the plant to close; it’s one of Buchanan’s few employers. About 1,000 people work at the plant, without counting the related businesses nearby. The town’s population is 2,060 as of the 2013 census.
Dennis Drogan, who worked at the plant from 2002 to 2003 and now owns the Bella Roma deli in the nearby village of Tarrytown, said Buchanan relies heavily on the plant and locals are stunned some of their neighbors want to shut down the place that supports their livelihood. He also said it’s safer than people say.
Courtney Williams, a cancer researcher who lives in the area with her husband and little girl, puts it this way: “If you are looking at it really just with fresh eyes, you’re just like, ‘This is fucking insane, there’s a pipeline going through it and gas pipelines underneath it and it’s 40 years old and it’s right outside of New York and it’s leaking tritium [the radioactive hydrogen from February’s leak], this is insane! What are you doing!’ But if you’ve been working at the plant for 40 years, and you work there and your mom worked there, you’re just like, ‘Everyone’s comfortable with it here. Their families live nearby. They wouldn’t be doing anything that’s dangerous.’”
In fact, Williams’s mother used to work at the plant as a nurse. But Williams says that having handled radioactive material in her scientific training – Yale and then a PhD in biochemistry Princeton – that feeling of safety is illusory. “It’s your sense of what is dangerous. There are snake-charmers and lion-tamers whose blood pressure doesn’t go up … Doesn’t mean it’s safe! It just means they’re acclimated to that level of risk.”
Read more at Indian Point nuclear plant reeks of troubled history but village is conflicted