April 27 is really important! Be there and bring friends! Cortlandt Town Hall, 4:30 PM
“The reasonable alternative to dumping this waste in the river and making the Hudson dangerously radioactive for 60 years is storing the contaminated tritiated water in double-lined casks on site for that period of time, and only then allowing it to be discharged. But that is not a solution for a company that would rather pocket unused decommissioning funds than spend them to babysit waste for more than half a century. Holtec would rather oversee a quickie cleanup so it can get the tritiated water off its land and off its hands.”
Don’t Kill the Hudson River
By Lance Gould
The Hudson River flows both north and south.
That’s why the Native Americans who populated what is now New York City before the arrival of European settlers called it the Mahicantuck, or “river that flows both ways.” That’s also the name of a classic folk song penned by legendary artist Pete Seeger.
It’s quite normal behavior for a tidal river, and it’s an enduring characteristic of New York’s most famous waterway. It’s also a trait that makes a very dangerous decision — dumping contaminated nuclear waste from the decommissioned Indian Point nuclear power plant into the Hudson River — breathtakingly reckless.
And yet, as early as this fall, Holtec International, the Florida-based energy firm that purchased the decommissioned plant just 36 miles north of Manhattan, plans to do just that: dump 1.2 million gallons of contaminated, radioactive wastewater into the Hudson.
That bears repeating: a corporation plans to dump 1.2 million gallons of radioactive nuclear waste into the Hudson River.
Originally, that harmful act was slated to take place in August. But then Holtec announced a sudden release of 45,000 gallons for May 4th — just two weeks after Earth Day. Holtec was likely motivated by profit, to expedite the cleanup process of the nuclear facility that it had purchased from the State, which included the transfer of large decommissioning funds to Holtec.
But a bi-partisan tumult erupted over that date switch, with lawmakers, regulators, and executives from six counties and from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the river angrily denouncing the change. Holtec backed down. Now the company’s decision is on hold, and it’s unclear when the company will make its next move. There will be a special meeting of the Indian Point Decommissioning Oversight Board on April 27th.
How did we get to this breathtakingly reckless scenario?
50 Years of Babysitting Toxic Waste?
There were three nuclear reactors at the Indian Point plant, in Buchanan, New York, over its 59-year history. Unit 1 was decommissioned in 1974, Unit 2 in 2019, and Unit 3 during the pandemic in 2021. The overall shutdown was the first sigh of relief for an area that, within 50 miles of the reactors, is populated by more than 17 million people. Those are the millions who could be negatively impacted by any sort of accident, malfunction, or terrorist act.
But just because the reactors were shut down doesn’t mean the nightmare is over. Now comes the question: What to do with all of the contaminated waste?
Holtec had originally made other plans to ship the contaminated waste to New Mexico and then Texas, but both states refused to take the shipments. (And let’s note that shipping hazardous waste is not a comforting solution these days, given the propensity of accidents on the road and rails of the country.)
The reasonable alternative to dumping this waste in the river and making the Hudson dangerously radioactive for 60 years is storing the contaminated tritiated water in double-lined casks on site for that period of time, and only then allowing it to be discharged. But that is not a solution for a company that would rather pocket unused decommissioning funds than spend them to babysit waste for more than half a century. Holtec would rather oversee a quickie cleanup so it can get the tritiated water off its land and off its hands.
Nukes Are Not ‘No Muss, No Fuss’
Nuclear power is generated by uranium fission. The byproducts of the process include myriad radioactive isotopes of such elements as cesium, strontium, and tritium. They’re all very harmful and long lasting, but most can be treated and filtered from waste to remove the most dangerous components.
But not tritium. There is no way to filter tritium. Tritiated water has a half life of 12.3 years. That means that every 12.3 years, its radioactivity is reduced by 50%, and that means that it takes about 60 years for tritiated water to reduce its radioactivity to under 1% and lose its harmfulness.
But if tritiated water were to be dumped into another body of water while still radioactive, that means that all of the water it touches would be contaminated. As would the sediment in the ground it touches. As would any of the living beings — plant or animal — which ingests it . When it evaporates into the air, we will be breathing those contaminated particles.
And because the Hudson River flows both ways, there truly is no telling how dangerous and astonishingly malfeasant it would be to pour 1.2 million gallons of tritiated water into it.
Note also that seven communities already use the Hudson River as a source for drinking water, and the Hudson is also New York City’s back-up water supply.
There is also a sturgeon nursery in Haverstraw Bay, just 2.5 miles from Indian Point. Sturgeon are an endangered species, and the tritiated water would be a severe blow to their survival.
A petition was established when Holtec first made the surprise announcement about the dumping. The petition has so far garnered almost half a million signatures, and can send a message to State (and national) politicians that nuclear power is not a “no muss, no fuss” energy solution.
New York State legislator Pete Harckham, a Democrat, has introduced a bill that has bi-partisan support, “prohibiting the discharge of any radiological agent into the waters of the state.” But Gov. Kathy Hochul, also a Democrat, has been conspicuously silent on the matter. There will be an organized protest outside the Decommissioning Oversight Board meeting on April 27th, intended to send a message to Gov. Hochul.
It’s time we realized that there will always be other costs that come with nuclear energy, costs that can’t be quantified in dollars.
On Earth Day, let’s do everything we can to protect New York’s irreplaceable river that flows both ways.
Lance Gould is the CEO of Brooklyn Story Lab, a media firm that helps purpose-driven organizations better tell their own stories. He is an unpaid advisor to the Radiation and Public Health Project.