“WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The water in a new well near the spent-fuel pool at the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant is contaminated with radioactive tritium at a level 30 times higher than the federal standard for drinking water, officials said Friday.
The well was drilled by Entergy Nuclear Northeast, owner of the plant in Buchanan, as part of an attempt to find the source of a small leak from the 40-foot-deep pool, which holds the highly radioactive fuel assemblies that have been used in the nuclear reactor.
The leak was discovered in August when moisture was spotted on the outside wall of the pool, beneath ground level, during an adjacent excavation. Concern grew in October when low levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope, were found in water at the bottom of six sampling wells on the Indian Point property.
Tritium is present in the pool water, along with strontium and cesium.
The worst reading from those wells was just slightly above the drinking water standard, which is 20,000 picocuries of tritium per liter of water. But according to data on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Web site, the new well yielded samples with tritium at 600,000 picocuries per liter.
Large amounts of tritium can damage internal organs.
The wells are dug only for sampling the ground water and are not drinking water sources.
However, critics have expressed fears that the tritium beneath Indian Point could eventually work its way into drinking water supplies or into the nearby Hudson River. Entergy plans to dig eight more wells to try to map the underground flow of contaminated water as well as to find the leak.
Both Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC, and Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said the finding was not unexpected, given that the well was within 5 feet of the pool.
But Steets said it does not necessarily mean that the pool is the source of the leak or that the contamination of the groundwater is new. It could have persisted from earlier, repaired leaks, he said.
Steets said that when more wells are dug, officials will have a better idea of where to look.
“One well by itself is not much of an identifier,” he said. He noted that the leak at the pool has diminished to as little as 10 to 25 milliliters per day, down from 1,000 to 1,500 milliliters.
Officials thought they might have found the source of the leak last month when they saw three discolored areas on the inside wall of the pool. But a diver, heavily shielded against radiation, tested the spots and no leak was found.”