Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Dangers of Nuclear Power: Indian Point Energy Center

By Stephanie Noda

PHOTO/Daniel Case

Safe. Secure. Vital.

These words are the slogan of the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant located in Buchanan, N.Y., about 45 minutes away from New York City and right next to the Hudson River. However, nuclear power may not be as safe as many would hope.

Most of the public is unaware of the dangers of nuclear power. President Obama stated in his State of the Union Address that he is proposing “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.” Even the president is unaware of the how harmful this power source may be.

Although many people may hope that nuclear power will be the energy source that will replace oil and coal as our primary source, there are many reasons, scientists say, why this situation would never be feasible. Not only is money an issue, but the overall safety of people living in the surrounding areas is the biggest cause for concern. These worries can include outdated equipment and containments leaking from the plant into the environment, creating health issues for the surrounding area.

One of these safety issues related to the Indian Point Energy Center is the escape plan for public schools that is to be implemented in case of an accident at the power plant.

“If you have a son or daughter, there is a plan,” said Chuck Stead, a resident of Rockland County and Adjunct Environmental Studies Professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey. “You are not to pick up your child and go outside the 10-mile radius of the site. Buses from privately owned companies come to pick up the children and travel away from the 10-mile radius. The buses would have to make three trips, sometimes five, to be able to move all the children. This would turn into a 35-minute drive, roundtrip. If there is an emergency, you’re supposed to get out within 15 minutes. Do the math; it doesn’t work.”

Indian Point Energy Center has been fined for not keeping their warning systems up to date. According to the World Nuclear News in the article “US regulator dishes out fines,” Entergy, the company that owns the power plant, was to be “fined $650,000 for being too slow to ensure public warning systems had back-up power.”

World Nuclear News adds that in January 2006, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gave the company a year to make the changes, but Entergy missed the deadline. The company failed to comply with a second deadline on April 15, 2006. The NRC refused to give Entergy a third deadline and fined them $130,000.

The reactors within Indian Point Energy Center itself can be a cause for concern. The plant is host to three reactors, all of which are not up to the newest standards.

“The plant is 20 years old,” said Stead. “The reactors are dated, which means that they are not beyond their life span, but they are on borrowed time.”

Another safety issue regarding Indian Point Energy Center is the contaminants it releases that may cause health concerns.

“Indian Point contaminates in two ways,” said Stead. “First, Iodine 313 becomes airborne. The other thing is low radioactive material has been found in the sediment. The radioactive material has the potential to seep into the sediment and then seep into the Hudson River.”

The nuclear waste that is created once the process of nuclear power is complete is perhaps one of the biggest concerns of nuclear power. Nuclear power bombards atoms of uranium together to create energy. Finding this uranium, however, is very costly and damaging to the environment.

According to Friends of the Earth, a prominent environmental organization, the mining of uranium for use in the nuclear power plants creates greenhouse gases since machinery that uses oil are needed to conduct the mining. Even if the nuclear power plant doesn’t emit greenhouses gases themselves, the process of obtaining the uranium creates just as much.

“Just to mine all the uranium creates CO2 emissions,” said Kevin Dremich, a senior of environmental studies at Ramapo College. “Even the transportation of the uranium uses carbon based fuels.”

The actual extraction of this waste once it is produced is also costly to get rid of. The waste will stay radioactive for thousands of years, meaning that finding a place to store where it will not be disturbed is an issue.

The Yucca Mountain situation is a prime example of how storage for nuclear waste can go horribly wrong. This site in Nevada was proposed as a place to put nuclear waste, which is located 90 miles outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, according to the article “Nevada: Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository stalled” by Roger Herman of the International Committee of the Fourth International. The article goes on to mention that the proposed sites “sits directly atop or near 33 known fault lines, the largest of which, the Ghost Dance Fault, runs directly through the proposed site.” If these faults were to cause an earthquake, there is potential for the nuclear waste to leak into ground, causing major environmental damage. Although this project was eventually abandoned due to this knowledge, the very fact that it was once considered is cause for concern; there is still the possibility that sites could be picked in the future that could similarly be on top of fault lines. If the Yucca Mountain situation were to occur again, there is no telling the environmental catastrophe that could possibly occur.

“It’s not the cost of building the plant that is important; it is the cost of the waste,” said Stead. “We do not take into account the full cost analysis of the waste removal.”

Indian Point Energy Center itself has the possibility of having a situation similar to Yucca Mountain; the power plant is also located on a fault line. According to an article called “New Seismic Fault Discovered One Mile From Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant” by Matthew McDermott of, a study by Science Daily showed that “not only is New York City at a greater risk for earthquakes than previously thought, but the Indian Point nuclear power plant 24 miles north of the city sits nearly on top of a previously unknown active seismic zone.” This example further proves that not enough research has been done on sites associated with nuclear power. If seismic activity were ever to occur at the nuclear power plant, there is no telling the devastation that could occur in New York State.

Advocates maintain that nuclear energy is not the way of the future. Indian Point Energy Center has proven that nuclear power is not safe, secure, or vital.

Stephanie Noda is a junior at Ramapo College double majoring in Environmental Studies and Journalism. She aspires to be environmental journalist when she graduates.

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