indian point radioactive leak

According to media reports Monday, radioactive material has leaked into the groundwater below a nuclear power plant north of New York City, prompting a state investigation and condemnation from governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo ordered an investigation into “alarming levels of radioactivity” found at three monitoring wells at the Indian Point energy center in Buchanan, New York, about 40 miles north of Manhattan.

Cuomo’s office released a statement that emphasized that the leak didn’t post a threat to the public:

Our first concern is for the health and safety of the residents close to the facility and ensuring the groundwater leak ‎does not pose a threat.

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.

Entergy also issued a statement, downplaying any risk to the public, and noted that they had reported the leak to authorities:

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.

While the effect of these elevated values is less than one-tenth of one percent of federal reporting guidelines, Entergy made voluntary notification to the NRC, state agencies and key stakeholders.

According to reports, one location radioactivity levels rose nearly 65,000%, from 12,300 picocuries per liter to over 8,000,000 picocuries per liter. The Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level for tritium in drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter, though Entergy, the company that owns the plant, emphasized that only groundwater, and not drinking water, were contaminated.

The plant supplies roughly 30% of the electricity consumed by New York City. Indian Point had three emergency shutdowns in December, prompting the governor’s office to launch, and then expand, an inquiry into operations and safety standards at the facility.

There have been many tritium leaks at the plant in recent years, though Saturday’s leak appears to be the most serious so far. Public service commission chair Audrey Zibelman faces a deadline for the results of the pre-existing investigation by President’s Day, 15 February.

“This latest failure at Indian Point is unacceptable,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This is not the first such release of radioactive water at Indian Point,” he said, adding: “this failure continues to demonstrate that Indian Point cannot continue to operate in a manner that is protective of public health and the environment.”

Tritium is a radioactive hydrogen isotope that cannot penetrate the skin; however, it is considered a health risk for illnesses, including cancer.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to request for further comment on the beginning of the leak and its duration.