“CORTLANDT – Federal regulators have approved Indian Point’s handling of radiation leaks first discovered at the Buchanan plant in August 2005, telling the public last night that the company followed procedures and protected residents, even though strontium 90 and tritium are likely still reaching the Hudson River.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s findings allow Indian Point’s owner, Entergy Nuclear, to leave the ground contaminated with an estimated swimming pool’s worth of radiated water until the reactors no longer are licensed to operate.

At that point – between five and 25 years from now – the company would have to dig out the contaminated ground and dispose of it as hazardous material.

Opponents derided the decision after a 75-minute presentation by Entergy and the NRC, saying the NRC should be requiring a more immediate cleanup rather than allowing it to sit in the ground.

Workers first discovered a tritium leak nearly three years ago, and the efforts to determine the extent of that leak led them to find a strontium 90 leak more than two years ago.

NRC, Entergy and state public health officials have maintained since the discovery that the level of radioactive material making its way into the environment and into humans was well below what is present in nature or everyday life.

“This is a challenging technical issue,” Marc Dapas of the NRC told a crowd of about 50 people gathered at a catering hall in Cortlandt for the presentation. “We do think we’ve provided you our reasons. It is important for us to continue to monitor the situation.”

Dapas, the second-highest-ranking agency official in the region, said the entire volume of leaked radiated water from Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 1 is on the order of 20,000 gallons.

Some media reports had the volume estimates closer to 1 billion gallons, about the same size as the Central Park Reservoir. Dapas said those estimates were way off.

The NRC’s report on the groundwater contamination, which the agency considers a status update rather than the final word, noted only one minor problem with Entergy’s efforts to control the leak: one set of monitoring well data was mishandled by the company’s laboratory and led to that lab being replaced.

Opponents of the plant sounded as if they wanted the NRC replaced.

“The overall plan here, which they’re calling ‘monitored natural attenuation,’ simply means, ‘We’re done. Let nature clean the rest.’  That’s not acceptable,” said Mark Jacobs, a longtime member of Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition.

Philip Musegaas, a policy analyst with the environmental group Riverkeeper, said his organization would continue to push for a quicker cleanup, to protect the river and lower the chance that the leaks could end up pushing more radiation to the Hudson than can be monitored by wells.

Musegaas also raised concerns about whether Entergy or whoever owns the plant at the time of its decommissioning and subsequent cleanup would have adequate money to do the job properly.

Dapas said there was no reason to require that additional money be put aside for the cleanup because the owner would have to take care of all its responsibilities before the NRC would sign off on the closing plan.

Indian Point is seeking 20-year extensions to its current operating licenses for Indian Point 2 and 3, which would allow the company to produce electricity from uranium until 2035. Indian Point 1 has been closed since 1974.

Entergy officials said emptying the spent fuel pool of its contents – which will be stored in dry casks containing helium – should take away the source of strontium 90 by the end of 2008.

The tritium leak is down from 1.5 liters a day to “a couple of tablespoons,” according to Donald Mayer, the Entergy official heading up the groundwater contamination project.”

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