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  • Roger Witherspoon

Nuclear Water Leaked into River

By Roger Witherspoon

The Journal News (Westchester County, NY)

May 10, 2002 Friday

Con Ed contradicted; NRC saw no danger from 2000 accident

The Journal News

Hundreds of gallons of radioactive water from Indian Point 2 leaked into the Hudson

River and the Buchanan water system days after a Feb. 15, 2000, accident at the

nuclear power plant, contrary to assertions by Consolidated Edison that all the

contaminated liquid was contained, according to documents from the U.S. Nuclear

Regulatory Commission.

Nearly 20,000 gallons of water that circulated in the nuclear reactor's core poured

out of a burst tube in one of the plant's huge aging steam generators and flowed into

a second, nonradioactive water system used to power the plant's 200-ton electric

generating turbine. The spill triggered a radiation alert throughout the region and

was the worst accident in the plant's history.

Officials from Con Edison, which owned the plant at the time, said after the accident

that some radioactive steam had been released into the atmosphere - at no harm to

the public - but that the coolant itself was contained in the turbine's pressurized

water system. Until now, no one from Con Edison, the NRC or Entergy has disputed

that assertion. NRC documents show that coolant also spilled from the second

system at least twice and flowed out of the plant through storm drains.

"Statements we have made in the past were accurate, and that's all we are saying,"

Con Edison spokesman Chris Olert said yesterday.

In fact, Con Edison spokesmen have publicly insisted none of the contaminated liquid

entered the environment.

"We were always told at public hearings that it was not technically a leak because it

was all contained, and there was no environmental exposure," said Marilyn Elie of

the Citizens Awareness Network. "That's what we were always told, and we had no

way to verify that. The utility lied. There are no two ways about it, and the NRC did

nothing to uncover the lie."

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said, "We made the documents public as soon as they

were filed."

He referred to the agency's first report, filed Aug. 28, 2000, which said "a small

amount of liquid activity ... was unexpectedly released into the discharge canal" and

flowed into the Hudson River.

NRC reports reviewed by The Journal News show the coolant from the nuclear

reactor was contaminated with several radioactive elements, including isotopes of

tritium, cesium, iodine and radioactive gases. The documents said that there was no

danger to the public's health or Hudson River fish, and that the level of

contamination to the public water system and the river was considered minute

because the reactor coolant was heavily diluted. The plant's storm-water discharge

canal runs the length of the site and carries 100,000 gallons of water per minute.

Because of the dilution, the NRC reports said that the unplanned discharge of

contaminated water still fell well within the technical license requirements of Indian

Point 2. It could not be learned by a review of the reports, however, how

contaminated the coolant was before being dumped into the discharge canal.

One NRC report, dated Jan. 6, 2001, included annual discharge audits compiled by

Con Edison and assessments from NRC inspectors who reviewed the discharge

reports and noted where violations of regulatory rules or procedures might have

occurred. In the report was a criticism of Con Edison for not cleaning up the

contaminated storm-drain system months after the spill.

The accident led to the plant's shutdown for nearly a year and renewed criticism of

the plant's safety that has intensified since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The January 2001 NRC report said that as late as October 2000, "the Unit 2 storm

drain system still contained contaminated water due to the February 2000 primary to

secondary leak." The report added that despite regulations requiring immediate

cleanup of the contaminated drainage system, "these actions have not occurred

despite over three months elapsing."

In addition, the report said that while the Buchanan water system was identified as

containing contaminated water four times in 2000, "no action has been taken to

restrict its use or to decontaminate it."

"While programs exist to (decontaminate it) they are not being implemented," the

report said.

John Kelly, director of licensing for Entergy, which now owns Indian Point 2, said

yesterday that after researching Con Edison's records he found that "in the

neighborhood of hundreds of gallons of contaminated water leaked into the floor

drain and went into the discharge canal leading to the river."

At the time of the accident, Kelly said, the radioactive water flowed into massive

"reheaters" adjacent to the power generating turbine. All drainage systems at Indian

Point that may hold radioactive material contain radiation detectors and holding

centers where the liquid is decontaminated before it is released. The system even

includes special lavatories used by personnel who are undergoing chemotherapy.

But the electric generating system is in a nonnuclear building, Kelly said, and its

storm drainage system does not have the built-in holding area. In the course of

trying to remove the contaminated water from the building on Feb. 21 and 22, 2000,

some of it spilled and went untreated down the drain.

"Con Ed reported the discharge to the NRC," Entergy's Kelly said, "and they removed

the water from the drain, though there is some question as to how well it was

documented. It was cleaned up before we got it."

Entergy purchased the plant Sept. 6, 2001.

Reach Roger Witherspoon at or 914-696-8566.


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