Deja-vu Before the NRC

by  Eileen Mahood-Jose 

On June 2, 2011 over 500 anti-nuclear activists attended a public hearing, in Cortlandt Manor, NY, called by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the purpose of reviewing the year’s safety record of Indian Point, Manhattan’s closest nuclear power station, and to put the public’s minds to rest following the March 11 incidents in Fukushima, Japan. This was the presentation I had prepared to give that evening, had I been given the chance to speak.

Good evening.  My name is Eileen Mahood-Jose.  I am an ordained minister living in Bergen County, New Jersey—which does not fall within Indian Point’s current 10-mile evacuation plan— criticized in the Witt evacuation study of 2003—but definitely within the 50-mile radius recommended for evacuation around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan.

As it happens you and I go way back. Thirty years ago I spoke in front of
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, following the partial meltdown in the Unit 2 reactor at Three Mile Island.  I worked for NJ SANE and the SEAAlliance, SEA standing for Safe Energy Alternatives. Great concerns were voiced at the time and many of the same facts and concerns were put before the commission then— the ongoing environmental hazards from radioactive isotopes, such as Iodine-131, Strontium-90, Cesium-137, Plutonium-239, Uranium-238, Cobalt-60, Tritium, Xenon, Krypton, and Americium; the threat of plutonium getting into the wrong hands; the stockpiles of nuclear waste nobody wants or knows what to do with; the lunacy of running catastrophic risks to boil water, but no nukes anywhere were shut down.

Then came Chernobyl. . .  ,  and as that Level 7 emergency happened all the way over in the Ukraine—and Europe got most of the fallout—it was business as usual here for the nuclear industry.

Well, this time the wind was blowing our way from Fukushima. . . .  I know
you have this thing about accepting responsibility for what happens when radioactive carcinogens produced by your reactors get released into the air or water—such as the 2,000 cases of assorted cancers aroundThree Mile Island, which only rated a Level 5 emergency, or the 20,000 thyroid cancers aroundChernobyl.  One must admit, though, there’s quite a coincidence between core meltdowns and spikes in infant mortality, babies born deformed or without brains, cases of leukemia or lung, bone, and thyroid cancers!

As I said . . . the wind was blowing our way this time.  Seattleregistered 5 hot particles a day throughout the month of April and infant mortality rose 35% there.  Contamination was registered in 3 out of 5 reservoirs serving Philadelphiaand a 48% increase in infant mortality resulted there.  And four nuclear reactors with melted cores and dry, exploding fuel pools so close to Tokyoare making a lot of people in NY and NJ–people who never gave nuclear energy a second thought–skeptical about the safety of Indian Point so close toManhattan.

And here am I, scarcely believing I have to do this again, thirty years later—all because the NRC is dead set on re-licensing this forty year old, accident-prone catastrophe waiting to happen—two Mark I design reactors on a braid of earthquake faults, closer to more people than any other nuclear plant in America.  And here you sit, congratulating yourselves on your safety record and assuring us that this plant is perfectly safe and should be re-licensed to operate for another twenty years.

Well, The New York Times recently reported that Indian Point was refused the state permit it needs for re-licensing because its 37-year-old once-through cooling system not only kills 1.2 billion fish a year but is destroying the ecosystem by dumping 2.5 billion gallons of heated water back into the Hudson River, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. What was the NRC’s reaction to this?  NRC project manager Drew Stuyvenberg said this issue wasn’t under NRC purview and wouldn’t prevent license renewal.  “It would just hold up the re-licensing process.”

Did you know that cancer incidence rates in the four counties closest to Indian Point are now 7% above the national average—so if local cases followed the trends there would have been over 20,000 fewer diagnosed cancers reported here? The greatest increase was found in local thyroid cancers—51% above the average between 2003 and 2007 and 66% higher in a more recent study.  Just a coincidence?

It is not often publicized that radiation is released from nuclear power plants systematically and intentionally in radioactive steam every time a reactor is shut down, for any reason. It is part of their protocol. So let me tell you what happened last November, because I didn’t hear anyone mention this when the safety history of the past year was reviewed at the start of this meeting.

Just last November there was an explosion and fire in a transformer at Indian Point prompting the eighth shutdown in two years—so there have been at least eight intentional releases of radioactive steam during that time. But this blast triggered a nuclear alert. So officials in Rockland, Westchester, Putnam and Orangecounties had to open emergency response centers in preparation for a regional evacuation, should the situation require it. But this fire, thank God, was in a transformer in the non-restricted part of the plant, and firefighters were able to go in and put it out. Who knows, what with all the exemptions
for insufficient fire equipment granted to this plant by the NRC, what would have happened if the fire had been, say, in one of the totally exposed, densely packed fuel pools.

So what caused the fire?  It was this part called a bushing, which had been in service since the plant opened in 1976. And there was a report that said that that particular bushing had been tested a few months earlier and was found to be unusually warm—but not outside the manufacturer’s limits. So it wasn’t changed until after the fire. And when Entergy, the utility that owns the plant, replaced the bushing in IP3, there was no indication that they replaced those serving IP2, which is three years older.  Entergy is currently being investigated by the NRC for possible systemic issues in its program to manage the aging equipment at Indian Point, which is good because nobody seems to be handling things like water leaks. Did you know that nearly two million gallons of water have leaked into the containment of Unit 2 since 1993?

But, to get back to that steam:  last November when the reactor was shut down because of the transformer fire, 600,000 gallons of boiling, radioactive water were released over the lowerHudsonvalley. The valve was opened, as per the protocol, but it didn’t close when it was supposed to, and no one happened to notice that the valve was still open for two days.

So, a mile from the intersection of the region’s two most active earthquake fault lines and 35 miles from Manhattan, there’s a forty year old nuclear power plant—of the same design as those contaminating ground water and the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan and whose radioactive plumes have contaminated our air, water, produce, and milk in areas as far as the east coast.

A mile from the intersection of the region’s two most active earthquake fault lines and 35 miles fromManhattan, this forty year old nuclear power plant is destroying the ecosystem of theHudson River and systematically releasing plumes of radioactive steam across the lowerHudsonValley.

A mile from the intersection of the region’s two most active earthquake fault lines and 35 miles from Manhattan, there’s a forty year old nuclear power plant, whose equipment—when not entirely missing—is not regularly maintained, whose fuel pools are densely packed and exposed to the elements, and whose containment vessels, well, at least the one in Unit 2, is flooded due to mysterious water leaks—am I forgetting anything?  Oh, yes, there’s also the issue of tritium contaminating the groundwater. At Indian Point tritium levels in groundwater have been measured as high as 300,000 picocuries per liter.

And, in the event of an event, due to an earthquake or a fire, faulty equipment, or good-old human error, who would be evacuated and when? If there is one thing we’ve learned from nuclear emergencies it’s that the truth about their severity is first covered up the utility company, the NRC, and all levels of government. Around TMI the governor only issued an evacuation advisory for pregnant women and preschool children within five miles of the plant, and that was two days after the incident began. The core meltdowns occurred within the space of five hours atFukushima and it was two months before news of the meltdowns was released to the public. And once the evacuation is called, who are these heroic bus drivers who will drive into the zone of an ongoing nuclear emergency, along these country roads—and do you really think everyone else will have followed instructions and stayed put?

Finally, did you know that, in the event that Indian Point is not relicensed for another 20 years, the federal government has plans for this site?  It’s thinking of dumping nuclear waste from its other reactors here for another 60 years.

We have 104 potential meltdown sites in this country—operating just to boil water. Each and every last one of them should be decommissioned, as soon as possible, and its fuel rods placed in dry cask storage. And for all the reasons  I have presented here tonight, I feel it is well past time we shut down and entomb these ticking time bombs—and there’s no better place to start than right here with Indian Point.


Thank you.


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