BY JOHN KELLY
As the retired radiation protection manager at Indian Point 3 and a long-time community resident who lives four miles from the plant, I have no doubt that Indian Point is safe.
Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, has a comprehensive and thorough monitoring program in place to detect levels of tritium and other radioactivity on site and in the environment. A few decades ago this system detected tritium in rainwater offsite. We reported it to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and it was traced to a release from a sign manufacturing plant in Westchester County not Indian Point.
Recently, Entergy found a rise in the tritium levels at monitoring wells on site. Still, this was much lower than the amount that had to be reported to the NRC, a level that is quite safe. Nonetheless, Entergy voluntarily and publicly reported the information.
In a Saturday February 6 press release, shortly after the above information was made public, the Governor said, “The company reported alarming levels of radioactivity at three monitoring wells, with one well’s radioactivity increasing nearly 65,000.” The broader and more fundamental point that the levels are safe was ignored.
It is also important to keep in mind that even without nuclear power plants tritium is already all around us. It is present in the cosmic ray interaction with the atmosphere and from industrial uses of the isotope such as in self-lighted signs (as used in supermarkets, movie theaters, and road signs). Tritium is also still present from nuclear weapons testing in the 1960’s and it is released from operating nuclear power plants.
Although the levels of tritium found are safe, Entergy is taking remediation steps so that the levels will be even lower. In addition, the tritium did not affect any source of drinking water onsite or offsite. The NRC is also closely monitoring and inquiring about the situation, overseeing Entergy’s actions. Entergy must identify the source of the tritium and stop it. Release of tritium through groundwater is not a permitted pathway of release.
Even if the tritium recently found was at unsafe levels, important, long-standing safeguards are already in place to protect the public.
I was Radiation Protection Manager at Indian Point 3 during its construction and start-up of operation. We designed the plant so that all groundwater at the site drains to the discharge canal where it is diluted by a minimum of 100,000 gallons per minute (gpm) and up to 2 million gpm at full power operations. The dilution provided in the discharge canal would result in the current amounts of the groundwater tritium concentration being too small to detect above background levels with the most sensitive analytical techniques but this is not a pathway permitted by regulations.
Those raising undue fears about Indian Point should be concerned about something far more important. If Indian Point were to close the vast majority of its power would be replaced by fossil fuels. That means more carbon, millions of tons per year, and other toxic emissions from other power plants. These are challenges far exceeding those of the tritium.
I understand that many people have genuine concerns about Indian Point. For more than four decades I have listened to those concerns and answered questions that friends and neighbors have. If I had any doubt about Indian Point’s safety I would never have worked there and would not live so close to it nor would I have raised my family near the plant.
It is heartening to see that a number of senior elected officials have been more deliberate in evaluating the situation at Indian Point and been responsible in their comments. These include State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, State Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
We are all best served when the discussion about Indian Point is calm, fact-based and open minded.
Mr. Kelly, a Garnerville resident, is a member of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance and retired in 2003 as director of Licensing for the Indian Point Energy Center and other Entergy nuclear plants in the northeast. He is also a certified Health Physicist who was Radiation Protection Manager at Indian Point 3 during startup and operations. A Rockland County resident, he lives four miles from Indian Point.