Transformer Troubles Again at Indian Point

March 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

TransformerTroubles again at Indian Point

By Abby Luby

Buchanan  – – To avert a transformer explosion atIndian Point, like the two previous explosions over a year ago, Entergy decidedto take the Unit 3 reactor off the grid last week because of transformerproblems. The plant was back on line after a 36 hour, unplanned shut down. Entergy, the owner ofIndian Point, announced that there was no release of radioactivity and nothreat to workers or the public.

Officialshere at the nuclear power plant had detected an increase in combustible gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen, which are needed to run thetransformer, and which, if ignored, could have ignited a fire.  Transformerstake electricity generated by the plant – some 22,500 volts – and step up that voltage to a level needed to feedthe electrical grid (typically 215,000 to 500,000 volts). Highly flammable oil,used to cool the transformers, has to be carefully monitored because mixing theoil with high voltage can cause the transformer to blow up. An option to usingoil is the more expensive nitroglycerine.

Transformer problems at Indian Point is nothing new. A transformer explodedat Indian Point Unit 2 in November 2010, prompting Entergy to shut down thereactor for 17 days. A month later the 30 year old transformer at Unit 3exploded, closing that reactor for almost a month. In 2007 a transformer firecaused an automatic shut down for Unit 3.

“Plantworkers monitor the condition of the oil, such as the temperature, salinity,contamination,” said David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “When problems are detected, one can either remove the transformer from service andfix the problem before it gets worse, or wait until the transformer blows up.”

When Entergy took Unit 3 off line last week, NRCspokesman Neil Sheehan said the transformer would be swapped out for anotherauxiliary transformer.  “Our Senior Resident Inspector assigned to IndianPoint 3 was at the plant overnight to monitor the downpower and the company’sapproach to dealing with the auxiliary transformer issue. The inspector did notidentify any immediate safety concerns. We will continue to follow thesituation and assess repair activities associated with the transformer.”

Unplanned shutdowns lower a plant’s safety rating if there are more than three unplannedshutdowns within a year. Because the reactor was not taken off line, this would not count as a shutdown. It will, however, count as a hitagainst the plant’s Performance Indicator for Unplanned Power Changes per 7,000Critical Hours.  Unit 3 had been online generating electricity for327 continuous days prior to yesterday. Unit 2 is at full power and has beenonline for 44 continuous days.

The two working reactors are capable of pumping outabout 2000 megawatts of electricity. Accordingto records from Con Edison, the utility company who sells electricity to  New York andWestchester County, the region uses 9000 to 13,000megawatts of electricity daily, depending on the weather. The 2000 megawattsproduced by Indian Point is about 15% to 22% of the daily region demands.Entergy has claimed that Indian Point provides up to 40% of the region’selectricity needs, which it does when the demand falls to 5000 megawatts. Usage usually drops on Sunday mornings in the spring and fall between 3a.m. and5 a.m. when the city is asleep, offices are shut down, air conditioners areoff. Those off-peak times of less usage happens about 12 times a year.

Entergy has applied to renew their operatinglicense to run Indian Point for another 20 years. One license expires nextyear, the other in 2015.


Guest Post on Cherry Mischievous

February 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

It took me about four years to write my first novel, Nuclear Romance. For a long time the story, which is about people living in the shadow of an aging nuclear power plant, was in my head. At the same time, I was regularly reporting on the local nuclear power plant for a major newspaper and the story line of each news report would collide with book’s story line, rendering it to swing like an energized pendulum, boomeranging off the latest nuclear event, changing the book at each turn. Finally the characters began to take hold, forming and re-forming until they had distinct voices, individual body language; they fell in love when they weren’t supposed to, got angry, sad, cried and laughed.

Interesting. I love when a writer is able to put things they have been through in the story. It always feels so authentic.

February 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

The back story of author Abby Luby


February 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Westchester Guardian  February 9, 2012  pg 10 -11

By Abby Luby

Buchanan, New York  – – Several fire safety practices at the Indian Point Nuclear power plants would be ineffective in detecting and extinguishing a fire, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Last week the federal agency denied the plant’s request to be exempt from updating certain fire safety regulations because of potential dangers and risks posed by several of the plant’s non compliant fire safety measures.  Of the 50 exemption requests, 42 were turned down.

“The new requirements state that the company has to have a means [to extinguish fires] that don’t involve operators having to go to where the fire is,” said NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan.


Fire safety regulations have been a serious issue at nuclear power plants since 1975 when a significant fire at the Browns Ferry nuclear reactor in Alabama disabled and ate through hundreds of electric cables running safety systems that could allow operators to control the reactor in an emergency and shut it down if necessary.


In 2000 the NRC began inspecting nuclear power plants for inappropriate fire protection systems and procedures and found many plants relied on their work force to manually respond to fires. In 2006 the NRC updated their fire protection regulations and required plants to comply with the new fire safety procedures by 2009. Compliance required automatic detection and suppression of fires.

In a 98-page letter of February 1, 2012 in which the NRC denied Indian Point owner Entergy exemption requests, numerous non-compliant “fire zones” at the plant were cited that currently required plant workers to manually respond to a fire. For example, one particular zone included a control room, turbine building, superheater building, nuclear service building, chemical systems building and administration building. Combustibles in this particular zone were in “cable insulation, lube oil, vinyl insulation, and hydrogen,” and that “transient combustibles in this zone consist of trash, cardboard drums, lube oil, fiberglass ladders, paint, and radiation boundaries.”

According to Sheehan, there are 350 fire zones at Indian Point. “This is a typical number for these types of reactors. However, plant owners are free to define what they consider a fire zone, so the numbers can vary.”

Entergy spokesperson Jerry Nappi said Indian Point conducts fire watches on an hourly basis and on an ‘as-needed’ basis for areas that are undergoing work. Nappi also said the plant had a trained fire brigade of about 100 members.

“This is not a volunteer position but a requirement. They undergo training at an accredited fire training academy offsite prior to being able to stand watch or begin working in the plant. They also undergo annual re-qualification training and periodic drills throughout the year.”

Although there is no fire truck on site, Nappi said there is a large volume of designated water for fires stored in several tanks which is more than the amount of water contained in a fire truck. Overall Nappi added that “the plant has several installed fixed suppression systems including foam systems, and fire water systems covering all areas of the plant. Fire water systems support sprinklers, hydrants, and hose stations.”

Denying exemptions is rare for the NRC. According to audits by the federal Government Accounting Office and the NRC’s own Inspector General, between 1982 and 2001 the NRC handed out 900 exemptions from the fire safety regulations to nuclear power plants across the country. It’s unknown how many exemptions the NRC granted from 2001 to 2011. In 2007 the NRC granted an exemption to Indian Point that allowed them to use a lower quality fire resistant material known as Hemyc which resists fire for only 24 minutes, a period of time critics claimed wouldn’t be long enough to catch and contain a fire in an area that was monitored hourly.

Allowing Indian Point to use Hemyc exposed the exemption process for being non-transparent and secretive, where the exchange between the NRC and power plant owners excludes the public. Challenging the legality of the Hemyc exemption in 2009 was Richard Brodsky. The former New York assemblyman sued the NRC claiming the practice of exempting nuclear plants from binding safety requirements was illegal.  Brodsky claimed that “Rather than require Entergy to upgrade the insulation to meet its own requirements, the NRC in complete secrecy with no public announcement, no public participation, and no public hearing, granted Entergy an exemption.” The case is still pending in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Co-plantiffs are the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The NRC’s rejection of Indian Point’s exemption requests was applauded by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who saw the action supporting his own petition submitted to the NRC last March urging the federal agency to take enforcement action against Indian Point for “continued failure to comply with federal fire safety regulations established to keep plants secure in an emergency.” The petition is still pending.  Both Schneiderman and Governor Andrew Cuomo have been active in opposing Indian Point’s application for a 20-year extension of the plants’ operating licenses.

In a press release last week Schneiderman said “The NRC should be commended for its action on this matter. However, many basic questions still remain regarding the safety of Indian Point and the security of the 17 million people who live and work in close proximity to the nuclear plant. We will continue to use the full force of this office to push the NRC to fully evaluate — and ensure –Indian Point’s safety.”

Indian Point has 30 days to respond to the NRC’s letter.  Entergy spokesperson Jim Steets said costs to upgrade the fire safety systems won’t be significant.

“We spent $70 million on maintenance and depending on how long it takes to install a new system, the cost will be absorbed in the maintenance budget. We originally thought we could accomplish the same [fire safety practices] to avoid lengthy development and the review process. You don’t want to spend money you don’t need to spend.”

Nuclear Romance: Excerpt 7

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Excerpt 7 from my new ebook NUCLEAR ROMANCE,  a novel about an anti-nuclear movement in the New York metropolitan area (available at Amazon, Kobo, Nook).

The second half of this excerpt is based on a radioactive groundwater leak discovered at Indian Point in 2005. The leak was from a crack in the unit 2 spent fuel pool and tested positive for high levels for strontium 90 and tritium. (photo courtesy of Riverkeeper)

Excerpt 7

When he got to the high school, throngs of kids and parents had crammed into the gym. The popular team was one of the best in the area and promised an exciting game to a hyped crowd. Lou found the staff photographer who would later shoot a picture of the kids getting awards, an image that later would be ubiquitously cut out of the paper and framed by several proud parents.

As he watched the first half of the game, his eye kept drifting to the ads for ALLPower. In two-foot-high letters their motto screamed out, “Your Power Plant: Safe, Essential, Local.” Lou thought about the cryptic phone call from the unnamed woman who insinuated that Kaylee’s death might have something to do with the plant.

At halftime, when the awards were announced, Lou barreled over to the small makeshift platform to interview the lucky kids and their parents. Holding two gold trophies was a beaming Bob Stalinsky. He leaned into the microphone and sharply cleared his throat, a signal for fans to hush.

“Aren’t these kids the greatest?” he sang out.

Applause. Cheers.

“We at ALLPower think they should be awarded with these!” Bob waved shiny gold trophies in the air. More applause.

“And although these are pretty to look at, these kids also need the green stuff to get them to college!”

He handed the two players the trophies and pulled two checks out of his suit pocket. The crowd loved it.

Lou edged in to interview the kids and their parents, who were thrilled to claim their minute of fame. When he was done, Bob sidled over to him.

“Hi. I’m Bob Stalinsky with ALLPower. Great that you’re covering this, Mr. Padera. These kids are the best, aren’t they?”

“They are. Can I ask you a few questions, Mr. Stalinsky?”

“Hey, call me Bob.”

“How long has ALLPower been giving these awards and how much do you actually give each kid?”

“We’ve been doing this for years. Can’t really say when it started—it was way before I began working for the company. It’s our way of appreciating the community and being a good neighbor.”

“Yeah. And how much do the kids get?”

Bob pulled a tiny bottle of antibiotic hand gel out of his pocket, and a sharp whiff of lemon stung the air.

“Altogether, we give students tens of thousands every year. ALLPower is a very generous company, Mr. Padera.”

“Right. But how much were the checks you gave out tonight?”

“Oh.” Bob scratched his chin. “Well, those were small awards compared to what we usually give.”

“How much?”

“A thousand. Each.”

Lou jotted a few notes down. A question lurked, not about the trophies. Before Lou could switch gears and muster a question about the plant, Bob leaned in to him.

“By the way, that was some story you wrote about the little girl. Touching piece. Really. Got my heartstrings. Poor thing.”

“Oh, thanks. Actually, can I ask you something about the plant, Bob?”

“Sure. Anything.”

“Is there any chance that something leaked into the river that could have made that little girl sick?”

Bob’s smile faded as if he had peeled off a mask. He assumed his corporate role, primping for an earnest-sounding answer.

“Absolutely not. We’re monitoring the plant all the time. You should come and take a tour of the place, see how safe it is.”

Bob reached into his pocket, pulled out a business card and handed it to Lou.

“I can set up a special plant tour for you any time. Just give me a call, Mr. Padera.

“I just may do that. And you can call me Lou.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


It looked like a small stream bubbling up from underground. Six construction workers peered down at the small, unexpected geyser that gushed out right after a backhoe accidentally gauged out a chunk of earth. Hurriedly a phone call was made, and an NRC inspector was on his way.

From the muddied ditch, the foreman looked up at the pristine, ALLPower glass tower, hoping the pause in ground activity wouldn’t be noticed by a random executive surveying from the comfort of an air-conditioned office.

The men had been working for the better part of the day, digging down into the ground to shore up the foundation of the transformer building. The dig wasn’t anywhere near the vast infrastructure of thousands of underground pipes. So where was this water coming from? And was it radioactive?

Two hours later Bob Stalinsky was staring woefully down at the pit. The inspector said there was a good chance the leak was radioactive, but just how much? Tests would be run to make sure. Worse, the source of the leak was unknown. Bob dragged back to his office. There were a few ways he could play this thing.

As the group dispersed, Larry Hines lingered at the far end of the ditch. He pretty much knew every inch of the intricate underground network, which pipes were the oldest, which ones couldn’t be reached or monitored. Some might be rusted, and you’d never know it. His eye ran an imaginary line from the ditch to where he estimated the old fuel pool was, where spent fuel was stored for the oldest reactor that had been closed for decades. That’s the culprit, I bet, he thought. But tracing it would be difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Because it could get worse, Larry felt obligated to share his thoughts with the powers that be. He would urge them to check out every possibility.

Back up in his office, Bob worked on his PR game plan and talking points for his boss, Mike O’Brien. Public officials would have to be alerted and a press conference called, soon—maybe within twenty-four hours. The company had to sound responsible, honest, and upfront. Bob would make sure Mike had the key words down—words of assurance—that the leak was contained, and there was nothing to worry about.

He tried to keep O’Brien’s comments short and easy to remember. The man’s true passion was out on the fairway with a five-iron, and when it came to speaking to the press, he was known for rattling off plausible facts that were difficult to substantiate. For now, the leak would be played down. The NRC would issue a press release late on Friday, a time that newsrooms were winding down or closed for the weekend. The report would be lost at the bottom of the pile by Monday.

Although they were the federal oversight agency, Bob knew the NRC wouldn’t nag the company about the leak. In fact, the federal agency was more friend than foe. No matter what went wrong at the plant, the NRC would issue its own public statement acknowledging the situation. If it was something really bad, they might slap ALLPower with a fine. But the fines were minimal, never over $50,000, which hardly made a dent in the multibillion-dollar corporation’s revenue base.

In fact, the feds were more an asset and less a regulator. The NRC was autonomous, and the only way to change their lofty status was by a vote in Congress, a process that takes years and the right political climate.

Right now, everything was very cozy. If ALLPower failed an inspection, the NRC would lower their safety rating a notch and demand they get their act together. The company, wise to this charade, promised timely repairs, adding exponentially to the backlogged fix-it list. Bob would diligently issue press releases, dumbing down a complicated problem and reiterating that the plant was a safe, reliable source of much-needed electricity.

It was all about keeping the business looking good and the shareholders happy. The two working reactors on the shores of theHudson Riverraked in over one million dollars a day from selling electricity. It would be a big loss if the plant was ever forced to shut down.

Life Without Indian Point?

January 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Westchester Guardian

Jan.19, 2012  pgs. 10-11

     Life without Indian Point?

By Abby Luby

New York City – – In a          landmark public hearing last Thursday, state lawmakers listened to testimony on the potential effects of closing down the Indian Point nuclear power plants just 24 miles north of the city. In a public hearing that lasted most of the day here in lower Manhattan, the New York State Assembly Committee on Energy heard from regulatory and utility brass who support the continued operation of the twin reactors in Buchanan and from experts who want to shutter the 40 year old twin reactors.

The hearing room was filled to capacity. More than 16 Assembly members sat on the panel led by Assemblyman Kevin A. Cahill, Chairman of the Committee on Energy, and Assemblyman James F. Brennan. Testimony, which was by invitation only, was heard from the New York Independent System Operators (NYISO), Con Ed, New York Public Service Commission, Synapse, an energy consulting firm, Indian Point owner Entergy and others. Environmental groups such as Clearwater and Riverkeeper were not invited to speak, but the panel encouraged the groups and the public to submit written testimony.

Would closing Indian Point impact the state’s economy and electrical system? And how can we tap into the surplus electricity being generated by facilities in upstate New York, electricity that could replace Indian Point’s output?

Prohibiting the flow of needed electricity to the southern part of New York and to New York City is known as “transmission congestion.”

“The last transmission upgrade was in 1987,” Brennan told NYISO Chief Operating Officer, Rick Gonzalez. “We’ve been talking about upgrades for decades. Why is it taking so long?”

“This issue is the cost allocations,” said Gonzalez. “Who will pay for the upgrades?” Gonzalez said NYISO used a model study that looked at a generic solution to congestion where the cost ratio benefits were greater than one. “In general, the beneficiaries [rate payers] would have to pay for the upgrade.”

NYISO oversees and operates New York’s electricity grid and plans for future energy needs of the state. Brennan pressed Gonzalez on how to get power downstate.

“What could we do more quickly to lessen transmission congestion?”  Gonzalez mentioned a few programs NYISO was considering to augment the existing transmission system. “It would get us 300 megawatts,” he said.

At times panel members seemed to bartering for more electricity to replace the 2000 megawatts produced by Indian Point.

Of the current projects geared to bring additional power to New York City, some are already have the green light, others are in the approval process. The already approved Hudson Transmission Line is expected to bring 660 megawatts from New Jersey to Manhattan. The completion date is 2013. Pending is the Cross Hudson Line which will offer 800 megawatts from New Jersey to Manhattan. Other pending proposals to build 1000 megawatt transmission lines from upstate New York or Canada include the Champlain Hudson Cable, New York Power Pathway, and the West Point Transmission Line.

Gonzalez warned that replacement resources must be in place before closing Indian Point. “Failure to do that will have serious reliability consequences and an increase in rolling blackouts.”

Verbal sparring about the reliability of electricity produced by Indian Point to the plant’s safety reliability was initiated by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee from Rockland. Jaffee intoned a history of accidental shutdowns at Indian Point, including the most recent shutdown last Monday from a broken pump seal at Unit 2.

“Given an aging plant and its shutdowns, how can you suggest that Indian Point is a reliable source of energy?” asked Jaffee, who received a round of applause.

“My reliability statement is focused on grid reliability, not the reliability of the plant,” said Gonzalez.

Jaffee referred to the disaster last year at the nuclear power plants in Fukushima, where a major earthquake and tsunami caused the destruction of four plants resulting in a core meltdown and the large release of radiation. “I question whether Indian Point is reliable or safe, especially in light of what happened in Japan,” she said.

Gonzalez was questioned for over an hour, a terse exchange at times only to be ironically interrupted by the lights going out for no apparent reason, garnering a moment of humor in the proceedings.

Activists made their voice heard during a break and chanted the benefits of closing Indian Point. Lead by Luna Scarano, an activist from the Occupy Wall Street environmental group, numerous anti nuclear activists echoed Scarano’s shouted words admonishing the plant for threatening the lives of 20 million people who wouldn’t be able to evacuate in case of an serious accident at Indian Point.

Indian Point 2 produces 1,028 megawatts of electricity and Indian Point 3 produces 1,041 megawatts. Currently Con Edison, who purchases 350 megawatts of electricity from Entergy, transmits between a total of 9,000 and 13,000 megawatts of electricity to New York City and Westchester during daily peak periods.  Joseph Oates, Con Edison’s vice president of energy management told the panel that on the hottest summer day, if the plant wasn’t producing electricity, there would be 1000 megawatt shortfall. Cahill asked Oates how they would replace the power if the state closed down the plant.

“We have not made any firm plans if the state decides that. There’s been no official announcement of a plant shut down – that process hasn’t been triggered,” Oates answered.

“What if Indian Point has to construct cooling towers and the plant has to close? Is Con Ed prepared for that contingency?” asked Cahill.

“We are preparing generic types of solutions. If a situation of retrofitting required support, our recommendation would be to shut only one plant at a time to satisfy needs in the short term.”

Breenan asked Oates about electricity produced by the gas powered, cogenerated plant in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and if it could make up the lost power from a retired Indian Point.

“Could taking power from a co-generated market in the future be a potentially economical purchase?”

Oates agreed.  “Co-generation is a more efficient use of the fuel because we are using it twice.  We are open to good ideas, especially ones that will minimize the cost for the customer.”

Both operating licenses for units 2 and 3 at Indian Point will expire in 2013 and 2015. Entergy applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2007 to renew their licenses, but their application has met much resistance from Governor Andrew Cuomo and environmental groups Riverkeeper and Clearwater. Since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima last March, the anti-nuclear movement has rallied with concerns about safe evacuation, Hudson River fish-kill by thermal pollution and the precarious location of the plant on a seismic fault.

It is unknown at this time how the Assembly Energy committee will use the information from the public hearing. The committee has the power to enact legislation and amend energy law and policies that impact energy availability and Public Service Law.

Radiation Checker: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

January 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Radiation Checker: the gift that keeps on giving

by Abby Luby

Guess what I got tucked in to my holiday stocking?

A brand new, sleek-lined Geiger counter that plugs in to your iPhone or iPad and within seconds detects radiation levels. It  was the gift that topped my list – with its pencil-like probe (14 centimeters long) that plugs in to the iPhone and uses a special  app called “Geiger Bot.”  My second choice for Christmas was the Geiger Camera app; same idea but works via the phone  camera.

To easily check radiation levels right in our own backyard is more than a curious pastime. It’s a survival check that became  imperative last March for hundreds of thousands of Japanese who lived near the TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company)  Fukshima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plants, reactors crippled by an earthquake and tsunami. The dual disasters ultimately caused  a triple meltdown that released dangerously high levels of radioactive substances. Today, almost ten months later, Fukushima  will go down in history as the worst nuclear disaster since the Chrenobyl meltdown in 1986.

In the post Fukushima aftermath, the Japanese company, Sanwa, came up with “Geiger Fukushima” — a name somewhat off-putting but leaves no doubt what this portable and light apparatus is for. This radiation detector and many other portable  Geiger counters are nifty, geeky gadgets that let you outfit yourself with glitzy, high-tech survival gear replete with a  not-so-subtle doomsday overtone. “Geiger Fukushima” is a perfect gift for someone like me living just a few miles from the  aging Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Westchester, New York; the twin reactors were built in the 1970’s just 24 miles from  New York City and are known to routinely and accidentally release radioactive plumes into the atmosphere and leak  radioactive isotopes into the Hudson River.

 Truly, these “smart’ radiation detectors are the type of gift that keeps on giving.

 If you decide to own such accoutrements as a pocket Geiger Counter, you will not be an anomaly: you can belong to the growing grass roots Radiation Monitoring Network ( whose data is available to anyone in the U.S. and around the world. You yourself can contribute to the group’s National Radiation Map where members have set up networks of stations that monitor radiation levels in real time. These high-tech tools and cyber networks are not only essential, they are empowering.

 “Impacts of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants on Marine Radioactivity,” a report in mid-December, 2011, confirmed that  levels of radioactive cesium and strontium-90 reached 50 million times the normal levels in the ocean near Fukushima. Working on the study was the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Japanese Meteorological Research Institute and  the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.

In the months following Fukushima, multiple studies weighed in on how much radiation actually poisoned the areas surrounding  the Dai-Ichi plants and then wafted out to sea. In a report a few weeks ago by Hong Kong-Based environmental consultant  Yoichi Shimatsu (“The Death Of The Pacific Ocean Fukushima Debris Soon To Hit American Shores” 12-16-11, he estimates that “radioactive isotopes cesium and strontium are by now in the marine food chain, moving up the bio-ladder from plankton to invertebrates like squid and then into fish like salmon and halibut.”  Shimatsu is clear about the critical interdependence between sea animals and land events: how aquatic life after the March  11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami were exposed to millions of tons of what could be contaminated biological waste that made  its way to the ocean from nearby farms. Other volatile chemical compounds can evaporate and form clouds unleashing rain  over Canada and northern United States, extending a long term threat beyond the Rockies “affecting agriculture, rivers,  reservoirs and eventually aquifers and well water.”

How much radiation has reached the United States?

It depends on who you talk to. Reliable reporting on the spread of radiation from Fukushima can be interpreted in a variety of  ways. Government officials from Japan and the United States are skeptical of any real danger from Fukushima borne  radiation. Immediately after the Fukushima disaster, the Japanese government neglected to act on data showing the enormity  of radioactive plumes and failed to safely evacuate residents, exposing entire towns to harmful radiation. The Japanese  government’s denial of widespread contamination justified their minimal effort to effectively contain spillage from the plants to  the Pacific; they even approved sea-dumping of nuclear and chemical waste from Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was no better saying that most of the radioactive water from Fukushima released into the Pacific was harmless, and that nuclear sea-dumping would have no deleterious impact on the environment  because radioactive isotopes would sink into the middle of the ocean.

Does this mind-set sound familiar?

Think the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who is emphatic about how Indian Point has little impact on the Hudson River,  incanting the NRC mantra “Dilution is the solution to pollution.”

 The NRC response to Fukushima was equally disappointing. They hand-picked a five-member safety task force in October who later recommended seven safety actions to be enforced in U.S. nuclear power plants. But later in December the Commission did an about face and reserved the right to reject any safety upgrades the NRC staff chose to implement. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a new regulatory requirement by the NRC staff can be deemed non-essential  by the Commission unless the requirement passes a cost-benefit test — a test the UCS says is based on a “post-Fukushima  understanding of risk.” (“NRC’s Post-Fukushima Response: Going in Circles”

Radioactive releases happen on a routine basis  – no surprise here and if you live near a nuclear power plant. But many aging  plants are accident prone. In February, 2000, reactor unit 2 at the Entergy owned Indian Point experienced a ruptured steam  generator tube that released 20,000 gallons of radioactive coolant into the plant and then into the atmosphere, causing the  plant to close for ten months. Indian Point’s spent fuel pools have been leaking into the groundwater and tainting the Hudson  River where four species of fish were tested positive for the radioactive isotope strontium-90.

In 2010, the Radiation and Public Health Project reported on the staggering rise of cancer cases near Indian Point over 15 years and strongly suggested that radiation exposure from the plant was the cause. RPHP used data from the New York State  Cancer Registry (for county cancer rates) and from the National Cancer Institute (for national cancer rates). Over a 5-year  period there were about 9,000 residents diagnosed with cancer each year.

 Knowing that invisible and odorless radiation could be lurking in our garden soil is better than not knowing at all. We don’t need a major nuclear disaster to own  small, hand-held Geiger counters and iPhone apps — just living near a nuclear power plant is reason enough. Protecting ourselves and our community seems to be one way around unresponsive government agencies whose alleged claim is to protect the public’s health and safety.