Indian Point – We Are Flirting With Catastrophe
a transcript of the February 16th installment of The Big Picture, hosted by Thom Hartmann, broadcast on Russia Today, February 16, 2016

(Posted on Dianuke for non-commercial use.)

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Alexey Yaroshevsky, RT America joins Thom Hartmann. For years people have been claiming that nuclear power is a safe and clean alternative to fossil fuels. But that doesn’t explain why New York State governor Andrew Cuomo wants to shut down a nuclear plant less than 100 miles from New York City. The latest leak is just one incident in a long list of problems—problems that show just how closely we are flirting with catastrophe.

THOM HARTMANN (TH): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for the Indian Point nuclear facility to be shut down after officials discovered that a radioactive substance known as tritium is leaking into the groundwater. Officials say that the substance didn’t leave the site, but the whole incident is raising new questions about the long-term safety of the facility that some call Chernobyl on the Hudson, Located just 25 miles north of New York City, Indian Point has long been a source of worry among nuclear activists who think it could cause a Fukushima-style disaster right here in the United States. The latest leak is just one incident in a long list of problems, problems that showed just how close we are to flirting with catastrophe. Joining me now is RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky who just got back from visiting Indian Point. Alexey, welcome.

Indian Point-map

ALEXEY YAROSHEVSKY (AY): Thank you.

TH: Thanks for joining us. So what did you manage to find out there?

AY: Well, it’s an alarming story, and I’ve thought of it as an alarming story ever since I started researching it because there are some things that people generally don’t know, such as the fact that Indian Point is 10 years older than Chernobyl that exploded in 1986 and Indian Point is 10 years older, so I was reading those things, and it gave me a feeling of “why is this story not being covered by everybody?” So I went there and of course I had been told by the company running it that it is safe, that the latest leak has been contained, and that there is nothing to worry about, but then I got to meet people who used to live in the area, and they said that they had cancer, thyroid cancer, which was the biggest shocker to me since again it has been grossly under-reported in the United States–or even more so people are just laughing at the suggestion that a nuclear plant operating 25 miles from New York City can cause cancers. So this was the biggest shocker. On the one hand you’ve got incidents–nine incidents in a year at Indian Point. Compare this to Chernobyl: one incident before the reactor blew up, just one, and 9 at Indian Point in just a year, and then the cases of cancer.

TH: And for the record, thyroid cancer is typically caused by exposure to radioactive iodine. Radioactive iodine is a short-lived radioactive isotope. I think it has an eight-day half-life, so sixteen days out it’s half as strong, and so forth, but it’s produced by the fissioning of uranium, and it’s a gas, so that means if you’ve got a bunch of thyroid cancers around or downwind of Indian Point, that means that they’ve been venting radioactive gases?

AY: That’s the way any nuclear plant in the world operates. It emits radiation whether in a large dose, in case of a leak, or in small doses, but it does emit it anyway. It’s just the way it operates. The thing is…

TH: The official story is they’re completely safe. There’s no radiation. Don’t worry. There’s no droids in this country.

AY: They’re saying there is a level of radiation which the plant emits, but it’s safe for human health, but I’ve met the scientists who are saying that it’s still radiation. It’s like saying smoking four cigarettes today will do you no harm, which is nonsense. Obviously, they will do you harm. The same with radiation: even in small doses, accumulated over time, it may create things like thyroid cancer, and I come from a part of the world where Chernobyl happened. And to us, it’s not rocket science. It has been taught in schools that thyroid cancer is caused by radiation, so you have people in the area of Indian Point–in masses, 20,000 people diagnosed with cancer—and yet the official bottom line is…

TH: 20 thousand?!

AY: 20 thousand over 15 years, more than anywhere else in the United States.

TH: Was there not a similar cluster after the Three Mile Island leak?

AY: Close to that, but then again if we go back to Three Mile Island, they were telling on the media back then that problems with health that people were experiencing were because they worried too much. It was not put down to radiation.

TH: So if this plant is so dangerous–20,000 people have cancer—why is it still operating?

AY: That’s a good question. A very simple answer, if you scratch the surface of it, is that there’s a leeway in federal legislation which allows, first of all, this particular plant to operate on expired licenses. Its license expired in 2015 and 2013 respectively, but it is still operating because of a leeway in federal legislation. The only body which can close this plant is the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and they’re not keen on doing that. And we talked to one investigative journalist who told us the reason is very simple: because of the money, because it’s a very profitable business to run a nuclear station.

TH: And then the NRC has never been really all that aggressive about regulating nuclear. They’ve really been more of a promotional agency, it seems, at least over the last year. Is this just one rotten egg or is this a general problem throughout the nuclear industry in the United States or worldwide?

AY: You know it’s been a debate which has lasted for decades and decades whether nuclear energy is safe or not. Lots of countries use it. The United States does. Russia does. Everybody does, but if you’re using it–I mean, I would say that nuclear energy is vital for the world. It powers the cities–but if you’re using it, you’ve got to make sure it’s safe. First of all build your nuclear stations at a safe location, just like they do in Eastern Europe. You build the station and there is nothing for hundreds of kilometers around, not major cities. You have a nuclear station malfunctioning sporadically–10 incidents in a year which is 35 miles from of one of the biggest cities in America, one of the most vital cities in America. That can give people as taste of alarm, especially if we are dealing with things like radiation which is an invisible enemy, as they call it.

TH: We have just 10 seconds left. Is Cuomo actually going to stop this thing? Is he going to shut it down?

AY: It looks like it. He is very determined. He’s been campaigning against the station for a number of years. Now it seems that his cup is full and he really wants to shut it down.