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Radioactive Waste and Pollution

Every exposure to radiation increases the risk of damage to tissues, cells, DNA and other vital molecules. Each exposure potentially can cause programmed cell death, genetic mutations, cancers, leukemia, birth defects, and reproductive, immune and endocrine system disorders. There is no safe threshold to exposure to radiation.

Government regulations allow radioactive water to be released from Indian Point nuclear power plant to the environment containing “permissible” levels of contamination. However, since there is no safe threshold to exposure to radiation, permissible does not mean safe.

It doesn’t take an accident at the Indian Point nuclear power plant to release radioactivity into our air, water, and soil. As a matter of regular operation, radiation is released from Indian Point in the form of liquid, gaseous, and solid radioactive wastes. Solid radioactive wastes include laundry (considered low-level waste) and irradiated spent fuel (considered high-level waste.)

Each reactor routinely emits relatively low-dose amounts of airborne and liquid radioactivity. This radioactivity represents over 100 different isotopes only produced in reactors and atomic bombs, including Strontium-89, Strontium-90, Cesium-137, and Iodine-131. Humans ingest them either by inhalation, or through the food chain (after airborne radioactivity returns these chemicals to earth).

Each of these chemicals has a special biochemical action; iodine seeks out the thyroid gland, strontium clumps to the bone and teeth (like calcium), and cesium is distributed throughout the soft tissues. All are carcinogenic. Each decays at varying rates; for example, iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days, and remains in the body only a few weeks. Strontium-90 has a half-life of 28.7 years, and thus remains in bone and teeth for many years.

These chemicals are different from “background” radiation found in nature in cosmic rays and the earth’s surface. Background radiation, while still harmful, contains no chemicals that specifically attack the thyroid gland, bones, or other organs. Indian Point ranks among the top emitters with respect to radioactive releases over the years it has operated.

Radioactive releases result from plant accidents and accidents happen. On February 15, 2000, IP-2 suffered a ruptured steam generator tube that released 20,000 gallons of radioactive coolant into the plant. The incident resulted from poor plant maintenance and lax oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The accident, a stage 2 event, triggered a radioactive release to the atmosphere. The NRC gave the plant its worst rating because of the previous plant operator’s failure to detect flaws in a steam generator tube before the February 2000 leak. One week after the accident, 200 gallons of radioactive water were accidentally released into the Hudson River.

Since at least August 2005, radioactive toxins such as tritium and strontium-90 have been leaking from at least two spent fuel pools at Indian Point into the groundwater and the Hudson River. In January 2007 it was reported that strontium-90 was detected in four out of twelve Hudson River fish tested.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission relies upon self-reporting and computer modeling from reactor operators to track radioactive releases and their projected dispersion. A significant portion of the environmental monitoring data is extrapolated – virtual, not real.

However, radioactive releases from Indian Point’s routine operation often are not fully detected or reported. In fact, accidental releases may not be completely verified or documented.

And, they occur throughout the nuclear fuel cycle, which includes uranium mining, uranium milling, chemical conversion, fuel enrichment and fabrication, the process by which electricity is generated at plant via controlled reaction, and the storage of radioactive waste, both on-site and off-site.

Finally, radioactive by-products continue giving off dangerous radioactive particles and rays for enormously long periods – described in terms of “half lives.” A radioactive material gives off hazardous radiation for at least ten half-lives. One of the radioactive isotopes of iodine (iodine-129) has a half-life of 16 million years; technetium-99 has a half-life of 211,000 years; and plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years. Xenon-135, a noble gas, decays into cesium-135, an isotope with a 2.3 million year half-life.

  • Nuclear Waste and Spent Fuel at Indian Point

  • Toxic Strontium-90 Found in Hudson River Fish SamplesPoisoned Hudson River Fish

  • Radioactive Leaks at Indian Point

  • Riverkeeper Responds to Leaks

  • National Policy Related to Radioactive Leak Issues

  • Comments and Documents on Waste Confidence EIS

  • Documents submitted by Riverkeeper