Indian Point threatens drinking water of 11.3 million people

8.3 million people’s drinking water could be contaminated if radiation escaped just 12.5 miles from Indian Point

Environment New York Research & Policy Center

[Peakskill, New York] – The drinking water for more than 11.3 million people could be at risk of radioactive contamination from a leak or accident at the Indian Point Nuclear Facility, says a new study released today by Environment New York. The report also shows that Indian Point Nuclear Plant threatens drinking water supplies for more than twice as many people compared to any other nuclear facility in the nation.

“The danger of nuclear power is too close to home. Here in New York state, the drinking water for nearly 10 million people is too close to an active nuclear power plant,” said Eric Whalen, Field Organizer with Environment New York. “An accident like the one in Fukushima, Japan or a radioactive leak could spew cancer-causing radioactive waste into the drinking water of millions of New Yorkers.”

The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan last year drew a spotlight on the many risks associated with nuclear power. After the disaster, airborne radiation left areas around the plant uninhabitable, and even contaminated drinking water sources near Tokyo, 130 miles from the plant.

Indian Point Nuclear Plant, just outside of New York City, has a long history of leaks and accidental releases of radioactive material. Recently, one of Indian Point’s nuclear reactors was shut down to repair a pump which was leaking radioactive coolant.

According to the new report, “Too Close to Home: Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water,” the drinking water intakes for 11.3 million people in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are within 50 miles of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant – the distance the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses to measure risk to food and water supplies.

The report also shows that 8.3 million people total, including 8 million in New York City, rely on drinking water from sources within just 12.4 miles of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.

Radiation from a disaster like the one in Fukushima can contaminate drinking water and food supplies, as well as harm our health. But disaster or no disaster, a common leak at a nuclear power plant can also threaten the drinking water for millions of people. As our nuclear facilities get older, leaks are more common. In fact, 75 percent of U.S. nuclear plants have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that can cause cancer and genetic defects. “Indian Point is so close to our water supply that virtually any radiation exposure could contaminate our drinking water and increase the risk of cancer and other illnesses,” said Whalen.

Local bodies of water also play a critical role in cooling nuclear reactors and are at risk of contamination. In the case of the Fukushima meltdown, large quantities of seawater were pumped into the plant to cool it, and contaminated seawater then leaked and was dumped back into the ocean, carrying radioactivity from the plant with it. The Hudson River provides cooling water for Indian Point Nuclear Plant in New York and could be at risk.

“With nuclear power, there’s too much at risk and the dangers are too close to home. New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry about getting cancer from drinking a glass of water,” said Eric Whalen.

The report recommends that the United States moves to a future without nuclear power by retiring existing plants, abandoning plans for new plants, and expanding energy efficiency and the production clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

“The Too Close to Home report highlights the profound risk posed by Indian Point to the drinking water for 9 million New Yorkers, and is only the latest evidence showing why this plant should be shut down,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director for Riverkeeper. “A recent study commissioned by Riverkeeper and NRDC conclusively proves that Indian Point’s power can be replaced after the reactors are retired in 2015. If we don’t need the power, why take the risk?”

In order to immediately reduce the risks nuclear power poses to water supplies, the report recommends completing a thorough safety review of U.S. nuclear power plants, requiring plant operators to implement recommended changes immediately and requiring nuclear plant operators to implement regular groundwater tests in order to catch tritium leaks, among other actions.

“Our drinking water is too important to risk radiation contamination,” said Whalen. “New York should deny Indian Point’s relicensing and address the leaks and radioactive waste left behind by this nuclear plant.”

“There are far cheaper, cleaner, and less-risky ways to get our energy,” concluded Eric Whalen. “New York and the United States should move away from nuclear power immediately and invest in safer alternatives such as efficiency and wind and solar power.”