By Mari Inoue
Holtec International wants to dump radioactive wastewater from decommissioning nuclear facilities. People and elected officials are fighting back to halt such outrageous, unilateral plans.
Founded in 1986 in New Jersey by Kris Singh, Holtec manufactures dry storage and transport casks for highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel waste from reactors. The company also built the Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in 2021 for Energoatom, Ukraine’s national nuclear energy company. Its wholly-owned subsidiary, Holtec Decommissioning International, provides dismantling work for Holtec nuclear power reactors, including Indian Point on the Hudson River, 24 miles north of New York City, and Pilgrim Nuclear Station on Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts.
On February 2, 2023, at a public forum of the Indian Point Decommissioning Oversight Board (DOB), Holtec announced its plans to dump highly radioactive wastewater from Indian Point’s fuel cooling pools into the Hudson River. On April 27, 2023, Holtec explained that approximately 1.3-to-1.5 million gallons from the radioactive fuel pools, a refueling water storage tank, the reactor cavity, and elsewhere need to be “processed and discharged via its Liquid Waste Processing System.” Holtec intends to begin dumping as early as September. The “processed” wastewater that will be dumped into the river contains tritium (radioactive hydrogen) and possibly other radioactive isotopes.
Tritium is clinically known to cause more harm and death to living cells than gamma rays. Numerous studies show that tritium produces common radiogenic impacts including cancerous tumors, reproductive and genetic effects, and developmental abnormalities. Studies also indicate that smaller doses of tritium can cause more mutations, chromosome damage, and cell death than larger doses. Tritium crosses the placenta and can impact an embryo or fetus.
In Massachusetts, fisheries and neighbors along Cape Cod Bay are pushing back against Holtec’s plans to dump more than 1.1 million gallons of radioactive wastewater into the Bay from Pilgrim. A warning issued by the Environmental Protection Agency states that Holtec’s unauthorized discharge into the Bay would be in violation of the Clean Water Act. Holtec agreed to cooperate with an independent environmental study, but refused U.S. Senator Ed Markey’s demand that they pay for it.
In New York, State Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg introduced legislation that makes it unlawful to release any radiological agents into the Hudson River during decommissioning of nuclear reactors, and failure to comply shall result in fines. The “Save the Hudson” bill passed the state senate unanimously, and activists are calling on the Assembly to call a special session to do the same after it initially failed June 10.
Photo Credit: The Cape Cod Times
In early April, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand wrote to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressing “significant concerns” regarding Holtec’s planned discharge of large amounts of radioactive wastewater from Indian Point. The NRC dismissed their concerns in a letter that states “to date, all releases at Indian Point have been a small fraction of the allowable limits for such releases.”
As of early May, more than two dozen municipal resolutions were adopted in New York, with more pending, to stop Holtec’s dumping plans. On May 6, 2023, the Save the River Rally at Cortlandt Waterfront Park was organized by the town of Cortlandt. Hundreds of local residents, kayakers, environmental activists, and public elected officials participated to demand the dumping be halted. They are calling for keeping the waste contained onsite.
— Arjun Makhijani, Exploring Tritium Dangers: Health and Ecosystem Risks of Internally Incorporated Radionuclides, 2023; Beyond Nuclear report “Leak First, Fix Later,” April 2010.
— For more info., or to get involved, see: Food & Water Watch, www.foodandwaterwatch.org
— Mari Inoue, a lawyer and activist based in New York City, was born and raised in Tokyo, and is co-founder of Manhattan Project for a Nuclear-Free World (mp-nuclear-free.com).