ALBANY, N.Y. – Environmental and political folks reacted with relief and gratitude last week after Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law a measure that will restrict the dumping of radiological substances into the state’s water bodies.
Holtec International, the entity that now owns, and is in charge of decommissioning, Entergy’s former Indian Point Energy Center in the northern Westchester village of Buchanan, this year unveiled plans to dump thousands of gallons of radioactive wastewater into the Hudson River.
Calling the Hudson one of the state’s “natural treasures,” Hochul declared that it was “critical we stand together to protect it for generations to come.”
Besides the obvious environmental issues, such discharges could have negatively impacted the region’s “economic vitality,” she said, adding that her administration was committed to “working closely with local communities who have advocated so passionately for this cause.”
Holtec had hoped to start dumping the tritium-contaminated water in May.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, tritium is a by-product of nuclear fission. When it reacts with oxygen, tritiated water is created.
Tritium can’t be filtered out because it has the same chemical composition as regular water.
However, while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledges that nuclear plants already “routinely and safely” discharge diluted tritiated water, it agrees that exposure to any amount of radiation presents a health risk.
More than 30 municipalities, including Somers and North Salem, reacted to Holtec’s plan by passing resolutions backing the so-called “Save the Hudson” bill.
Strenuous objections to the discharge plan were also raised by groups such as Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, and Food & Water Watch.
Numerous rallies and press conferences were held and petitions signed by approximately 500,000 New York residents, according to the bill’s sponsor in the state Assembly, Dana Levenberg (D-Ossining).
Things took on a new urgency at a public forum held by the state’s Decommissioning Oversight Board in July when it was disclosed that the NRC appeared ready to allow Holtec to move forward without waiting for the results of required testing.
Those tests – specifically for strontium-90, which is readily absorbed into the tissues of animals and plants — take about three months to complete.
The fact that Holtec intending to start discharging the water in September was “alarming,” according to a letter sent to Hochul by Chris burdick (D-Bedford) and six other state Assembly members from Westchester.
Hochul also promised to work with the oversight board to identify “feasible and acceptable” alternatives for the disposal of the wastewater so, she said, the decommissioning of the nuclear plant can continue, “jobs can be preserved,” and the site “can be cleaned up in a safe, thorough, a prompt manner.”
Expressing disappointment, Holtec insisted that it still “firmly” believes that the new legislation was “preempted by federal law and that the discharge of monitored, processed, and treated water would not impact the environment or the health and safety of the public.”
“In the interim, we will evaluate the impact to our decommissioning milestones and the overall project schedule,” the energy industry giant said.
ENVIRONMENTAL VICTORY DECLARED
The “Save the Hudson” bill was introduced in the state Senate by Pete Harckham (D-Lewisboro).
Thanking Hochul and the people who fought so hard for the legislation, he called it “one of the great environmental victories in state history.”
Harckham promised to work with “all stakeholders to find alternative solutions to this challenge” and to “continue the timely and safe decommissioning of the Indian Point power plants.”
Saying that the Hudson “defines our region,” Levenberg called the bill’s signing “welcome news to so many people in my district and far beyond.”
Reacting to the news, North Salem Deputy Supervisor Peter Kamenstein said: “We’ve always been in favor of environmentally friendly legislation and this is one of those things.”
Somers Supervisor Robert Scorrano said:
“The Town of Somers is happy to read that Gov. Hochul signed legislation to prevent the discharge of radioactive wastewater from Indian Point into the Hudson River. The Hudson River plays a significant role in surrounding communities and is the lifeline to the region.”
Mike Lawler, representative of the state’s 17th Congressional District, also said he was happy the law has been signed.
“I look forward to the governor working with federal, state, and local officials, as well as organized labor, local environmental activists, and Holtec, to determine an environmentally safe and fiscally sound solution to eliminating the wastewater on-site,” he said in a statement. “Protecting the Hudson River and our communities that utilize it is of paramount importance — we must work together to find a workable solution for all involved.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, reacting to the law’s signing said: “Today, we take a stand and shield the Hudson River from potential harm during Indian Point’s decommissioning — prioritizing the environment and human well-being above all other considerations.”
“The bill sends an important message to New Yorkers: The Hudson River is the source of our collective prosperity, not a dumping ground for industrial waste,” said Scenic Hudson president Ned Sullivan.
The sentiment was echoed by Tracy Brown, president of Riverkeeper.
“This sends a clear signal that the state is “dedicated to preventing Holtec from using the Hudson River as a dumping ground for radioactive waste,” she declared.
According to Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region director at Food & Water Watch, Holtec’s plan “to dump radioactive water in the Hudson River was dangerous from the start, and New Yorkers from all over the state quickly organized robust opposition.”
“Today, we celebrate the power of our communities over corporations, and thank Governor Hochul for keeping our river safe,” he added.