“Hudson River’s ‘keeper’
Riverkeeper is a nonprofit organization founded in 1966. It’s dedicated to
protecting the ecology of the Hudson River and the watershed area that
provides drinking water to New York City and parts of the northern suburbs.
The crux of Riverkeeper’s lawsuit against Indian Point is whether leaking
strontium 90 at the nuclear power station is hazardous waste as defined by
the Environmental Protection Agency – or radioactive waste under the control
of another federal agency.
Riverkeeper says the EPA should have been notified in August, when the
radiated water was discovered at the Buchanan site.
“We’re not talking about somebody’s septic system,” said Karl Coplan, the
director of the Pace Environmental Law Clinic, which will pursue the case
for Riverkeeper. “We’re talking about nuclear waste.”
Indian Point officials say they met their obligation by quickly reporting the leak to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the plants. A federal judge in White Plains may get a chance to sort out the answers.
Riverkeeper filed papers yesterday that the organization’s officials vow will grow into a full-fledged lawsuit after allowing the plant’s owner, Entergy, the required 60 days to either solve the problem by officially notifying the EPA or opt to fight the challenge in court.
The environmental group, celebrating its 40th anniversary of watching over
the Hudson River, isn’t seeking financial damages but wants the EPA involved in the leak probe and the public involved more in potential plans for cleaning up the contamination.
Indian Point spokesman Jim Steets said the company is pushing ahead with the
investigation into the cause of the leak, and has met and will continue to meet its federal, state and public responsibilities.
“We’re acting on very little information because they haven’t filed a
lawsuit yet,” Steets said of Riverkeeper. “They appear to be referring to
regulations for hazardous materials, not radioactive materials. It simply
boils down to the fact that (the EPA) doesn’t have jurisdiction.”
EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Bellow said agency officials had not seen a copy of
Riverkeeper’s intention to sue.
“It would be premature for us to comment,” Bellow said. “The primary
regulatory agency is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
Bellow said that “in certain circumstances” the agency had the responsibility to deal with radioactive material.
Philip Musegaas, Riverkeeper’s policy analyst for Indian Point, said the EPA
was the proper agency to be involved in the groundwater contamination
because the leak comes from a holding tank, and the agency’s list of
possible contaminants includes radioactive isotopes like strontium 90.
The source of the leak of strontium – and the less dangerous tritium – has not been determined, and Entergy drilled 23 monitoring wells on the property to gauge the extent of the leak. The NRC and state health and environmental
officials have taken split samples from those wells in a months-long effort
to measure the extent of the contamination.
Lisa Rainwater Van Suntum, who is leading Riverkeeper’s campaign to close
the nuclear plants, estimated the company makes $2 million a day from its
Indian Point operation and can afford to perform a “prompt and timely
Steets emphatically denied the $2 million figure. He declined to give a more
accurate accounting but said the company wasn’t pinching pennies on the leak.
“We have the money to do what’s appropriate at Indian Point, and we’re doing it,” Steets said. “We meet or surpass all the regulations. We’re not sparing any expense in dealing with this groundwater issue.”
Coplan said he didn’t expect to the case to make it to court until late this year or next.”