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Indian Point: Help us ensure that the Decommissioning Oversight Board, not Holtec, make decisions about radioactive water disposal


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As the Indian Point decommissioning effort continues, there remain a number of significant issues that will be discussed at the next meeting of the Decommissioning Oversight Board (DOB) on Thursday, February 2. Much of that meeting will focus on options and decisions that will need to be considered for how to safely and properly dispose of radioactive wastewater from Indian Point. Riverkeeper requests that members of the public attend this meeting either in person or by Zoom to take advantage of this opportunity to ensure that these issues are properly addressed. You must pre-register by Wednesday, February 1.

At the last DOB meeting in December, representatives from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) specified that spent fuel that is currently in the spent fuel pools will be loaded into casks and moved to a dry storage pad. Both agencies agree that there currently is nowhere to ultimately dispose of spent fuel, but both discussed the possibility of interim storage as a way to move the fuel from reactor sites. Without having made further decisions on identifying locations for where the spent fuel could be moved, the DOE is designing spent fuel transportation systems, even though federal law currently prevents construction of federally owned interim storage. In contrast, the NRC has already licensed transportation casks and a private interim storage facility and anticipates licensing more of them. However, the issued license for the interim storage is being challenged in court and is delaying construction.

In the meantime, casks used for storage will be monitored for decline while they remain at the site. As described at the meeting, the monitoring program involves periodic visual inspection of the interior canister of a single cask. As a rule at other sites, the oldest cask has been selected with the intent that it would be most vulnerable to corrosion. Riverkeeper strongly objects to this process as it discounts the possibility of imperfections in the metal or anomalies in the welds in other casks, making them more vulnerable. A more thorough and comprehensive monitoring process must be employed.

Voicing concern at the December meeting, Riverkeeper also addressed representatives of Holtec, the facility’s owner, regarding violations of NRC requirements, when Holtec failed to ensure that dust could not escape the containment domes. This is a serious issue and gives rise to broader concerns about the thoroughness of Holtec’s engineering analyses. Throughout the process, community members have raised concerns about whether dust contamination from the decommissioning construction process will be adequately contained. Holtec has maintained that its “negative pressure” system was sufficient to prevent dust from escaping outside of the buildings and construction area. However Holtec never assessed or tested the system and the system failed when it was finally used. Though the violation was fixed, it could have been avoided had Holtec done their due diligence prior to using the system.

We expect to hear more from Holtec about this violation at the February 2 meeting, as well as the controversial topic of how to dispose of water from the spent fuel pools once the fuel is removed from them. Dave Lochbaum, an independent technical expert on the DOB with extensive experience in nuclear safety, will present an assessment of the feasible alternatives for disposal of this water (such as evaporation; storage and delayed release; transport and release elsewhere; or release into the Hudson River). Mr. Lochbaum is an unpaid volunteer on the board and has no association with Holtec. A community representative will also make a presentation.

These are the points we expect will be brought forward:

  • The discharges from Indian Point will cease once all the spent fuel is moved to dry casks.
  • Holtec would use Indian Point’s existing water processing system to clean the water before discharging it, and the potential discharge to the Hudson River would not be significantly different from those that were made during the plant’s operation.
  • However, this water processing system cannot remove tritium, a type of radioactive isotope.
  • The tritium levels present are expected to be significantly below the levels that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set for human health and safety. The current amounts are expected to measure at approximately 3% of the limits set.
  • As tritium is chemically identical to water, there is no real viable method to remove or treat tritium in Indian Point’s wastewater. Experimental methods are in development, but none that are ready for treatment of a large volume of water at 3% of EPA-allowed levels, as needed at Indian Point.

Just because these discharges have occurred for more than 40 years does not mean they are the best disposal method. The ideal situation is zero radiation entering the Hudson River. Riverkeeper is monitoring the issue carefully and will insist that the best technology with the least environmental and health impacts is used.

How can you help us?
Riverkeeper wants the decision for the best method for the disposal of the wastewater to rest with the Decommissioning Oversight Board (DOB), not Holtec. Join Riverkeeper in insisting that discharges are halted until the DOB has evaluated, vetted and decided on the best disposal method after an appropriate deliberative process.

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