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Radioactive Material Found Under
New York Nuclear Plant

March 22, 2006

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - High levels of a radioactive material — nearly three times the amount permitted in drinking water — were found in groundwater near the Hudson River beneath a nuclear plant, said the owner, Entergy Nuclear Northeast.

The groundwater does not intersect drinking supplies, and although the strontium-90 is believed to have reached the Hudson it would be safely diluted in the river, said Jim Steets, spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast.

The strontium — which in high doses can cause cancer — was found in a well dug in a search for the source of a leak of radioactive water at the Indian Point complex, about 35 miles north of New York City.

The test well, inside a turbine building, is among nine recently dug in an attempt to pinpoint the leak that is contaminating the groundwater. Contaminated water first was found in August on the outside of a spent-fuel pool for the Indian Point 2 reactor, but no leak has been found on the inside of the pool.

Entergy’s finding matched tests by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the same sample, Steets said.

The sample also yielded tritium, another potential carcinogen, at levels well above the drinking water standard. High levels had been found earlier in another test well. The nuclear commission announced Monday that it would investigate releases of tritium at Indian Point and other plants.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said that the commission still believes that radioactivity in the water — given that it is not drinking water — is well below the level that would "pose a risk to public health and safety."

The sample from the well also found higher-than-normal levels of a third isotope, nickel-63, but those levels were under the drinking water standard, Steets said.

The new findings add to the uncertainty, Steets said.

"When we first got these findings we were scratching our heads because it does raise questions about what the source (of the leak) really is," Steets said.

For example, he said, the presence of nickel might point to the spent-fuel pool for Indian Point 1 rather than Indian Point 2 because those fuel assemblies had more steel and nickel-63 is formed in connection with steel.

"It's still all speculation," he added. "This is just one data point in a long process."

Entergy said water samples were taken at four depths in the well. Strontium levels, in picocuries per liter, were 2.4, 3.86, 18.2, and 22.7. The drinking water limit is 8.

Tritium, which becomes dangerous only at much higher concentrations than strontium, was found at 12,800, 14,700, 28,000 and 13,300 picocuries per liter. The drinking water limit is 20,000.

Indian Point has been a lightning rod for controversy for about 30 years, mainly because it is one of only a few nuclear plants in heavily populated areas. The plant is 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan.