Federal and Indian Point officials last week announced – and quickly moved to repair – a broken pipe that was leaking radioactive water into a discharge canal that drains into the Hudson River. Federal regulators said that the tritium leak was not a safety risk to workers or the public. Here is a comment from an activist opposed to the relicensure of Indian Point.

Once again, Indian Point unexpectedly springs a leak and releases more radioactive material into the environment and directly into the Hudson River. This leak of tritiated water, at a rate of 18 gallons per minute, highlights a serious issue in the relicensing process that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has refused to answer.

In public meetings, NRC officials have been asked to state what standards the miles of underground pipes at Indian Point will be required to meet, and what specific measurements will be made to show that the pipes will maintain their integrity until the year 2035, the end of the 20-year extension sought by the plants’ owner. The NRC has not made those standards or metrics known. Clearly, any standards they have used have not worked so far.

If this pipe rupture occurred at a time when the entire region is watching, because of recent history and current relicensing debates, what should we expect over an additional 20 years? Jim Steets, longtime spokesman for the plant, is quoted in this newspaper saying, “There is no way to prevent everything. You just have to be prepared to make repairs.” What happens if the next leak is on the nuclear reactor side, instead of the non-reactor side, which is still releasing radiation? Remember that the last set of leaks, including the presence of Strontium 90, were discovered by luck when an excavation work discovered wetness outside the spent fuel pools.

At the latest public meeting held at Colonial Terrace, one of the first slides shown listed the “NRC’s Mission: Protect public health and safety, Promote common defense and security, Protect the environment.” The NRC has not addressed how it will have adequate proof that other buried pipes won’t corrode like the one that did last week. Can the NRC tell us how many more pipes lack protective measures or are close to rupturing? If Entergy and the NRC did not see this leak coming, how will they justify that the rest of the miles of piping will stand up for another 25 years?

The NRC is essentially telling us that we will have to accept additional radioactivity in our environment. If simply having monitoring wells so that leaks get discovered is the agency’s idea of protecting the environment, then I think their standards are inadequate. If the agency says that as long as the leaks don’t go directly into known drinking-water sources, they are not threats to the environment, then their standards are inadequate.

The National Academy of Sciences issued a report just a few years ago stating that no amount of exposure to ionizing radiation can be considered harmless, and all exposure increases the likelihood of cancer and birth defects. A small-scale study of milk from nursing mothers and from lactating goats within 50 miles of Indian Point found Strontium 90 in virtually all samples, and the closer the sample was to Indian Point, the higher the concentration of Strontium. These results are consistent with the study of baby teeth conducted by the Radiation and Public Health Project.

We should also recognize that relicensing is for 20 years, but law requires spent fuel nuclear wastes to be kept quarantined from human contact for 10,000 years. Indian Point is already stacking casks of nuclear wastes on a concrete platform and there is already about 20 times as much radioactive material at Indian Point than the amount that was released in the Chernobyl meltdown. If the company and the agency cannot anticipate and prevent a rupture in 35-year-old pipes, how comfortable do you feel with nuclear bowling pins stacked on the banks of the Hudson until the year 12035? The first step has to be stopping the creation of more radioactive waste.

Placement of this plant was wrong to begin with, that is why in public testimony in 1979, Robert Ryan, then an NRC director, called Indian Point “one of the most inappropriate locations in existence” for a nuclear plant. He also said that he thought having a nuclear plant 35 miles from midtown Manhattan and 20 miles from the Bronx was “insane.” It is equally insane to relicense it.

The writer, who lives in Croton on Hudson, is a member of the steering committees of Croton Close Indian Point and Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition.”