It's always the coverup that hurts
Nov 20, 2010 12:04 pm
HUDSON VALLEY... As legendary anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott spoke at Troy's Sanctuary for Independent Media on November 13, the big subject on many Capital area media- and nuclear-watch minds was the late October radioactive leak from Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory into the Mohawk River at its Niskayuna site, and what went wrong with supposedly tight reporting procedures that ended up seeing municipalities along the Mohawk that use the river for their drinking water, as well as along the Hudson River, having no idea for over a week that their drinking water supply might have been contaminated.
"Instead, the public is left with an unsettling 'who-shoulda-done-it' following an Oct. 25 incident," noted the Albany Times Union in an editorial this past Tuesday, indicating how this story will now likely roll along, if there's anyone left in state govenment to follow it. "Knolls apparently thought the U.S. Energy Department would tell someone. The state Department of Environmental Conservation thought the state Department of Health would do it. So no one did."
Brian Nearing of the Times Union reported on November 8 that hundreds of gallons of radioactive water from a cleanup at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory spilled from a drainage pipe into the Mohawk River last month, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. A failed sump pump system caused about 630 gallons of tainted water --
containing Cesium-137, Strontium-90, uranium and plutonium -- to
overflow into a culvert draining directly into the river, DEC
DEC regional spokesman Rick Georgeson said the water came from storm drainage caused by heavy rains Oct. 25 at the River Road site, where a cleanup of pollution left behind by Cold War-era nuclear weapons
research has been going on since 2008.
Nearing reported on Nov. 13 that Knolls began a cleanup of radioactive soil, which covers about five of the facility's 170 acres along the Mohawk River, including two buildings, in 2008. The spill, he noted, dates to the early 1950s, when the federal government researched nuclear weaponry via a unit that was operational for less than three years before closing in 1953.. In December 2007, the federal Depart. of Energy awarded a $69 million cleanup contract to Washington Group International of Oak Ridge, Tenn. In April 2009, the federal government announced a $32 million stimulus grant to help pay for the cleanup.
Although calls to Bechtel-managed Knolls have gone unreturned in recent weeks, the entity's spokeswoman, Anne LaRoche, earlier said in a release that the lab was taking measures to ensure the incident isn't repeated, including the addition of sump-pump monitors on the main control panel and the addition of a collector tank in case another pump failure occurs. In addition, the facility will in future treat its tainted water offsite, rather than treating it at Knolls and discharging it into the Mohawk.
"We learned about the leak when we read about it in the newspaper," the Times Union quoted John Frazer, superintendent of the Latham Water District. "No one from Knolls called us. This left us in a very awkward position."
Officials in the city of Cohoes, which also relies on the Mohawk River for drinking water further downriver from Latham, also did not receive warnings about the Oct. 25 leak, with state officials maintaining the amount of radiation was too small to present a health risk. Warnings about leaks at Knolls allow officials in the Latham Water District, which serves about 80,000 residential customers, a chance to switch its water supply from the Mohawk to a series of wells. The drinking water intakes are about 1.5 miles downriver from Knolls.
Frazer said Knolls officials blamed the lack of a heads-up this time on the U.S. Energy Department.
DEC Regional Director John Kelly suggested that DEC officials thought the state Health Department, which accompanied DEC officials to investigate the leak, would call the Albany County Health Department, which would in turn alert Latham and Cohoes.
"So from now on, we will notify the locals, who may end up being notified twice," said Kelly. "We are changing our protocols so something like this will not happen again.".
"This is a little gray area," said Health Department spokesman John Constantakes. "I am not saying it was our responsibility, but we will look this over and see if we should be alerting people in every possible instance."
Constantakes added that tests of the stream bed where the leak had traveled through on its way to the Mohawk found only "trace elements of radioactivity" that did not present a health risk, which led the Health Department to conclude it was unnecessary to notify local officials.
Elsewhere, in nuclear waste matters in the wider region, the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire reported that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant was shut down the first week in November so officials could investigate a radioactive leak of about 60 drops per minute into a floor drain in the plant, then through pumps that recirculated it into the plant's systems. Vermont Yankee later reported on Nov. 11 that repairs were successful and they were back "on the grid."
Farther down the Hudson this month, the ever-controversial Indian Point had its 1,020-megawatt Indian Point 2 reactor shut down by owners Entergy Corp. on November 7, according to Bloomberg News, after a transformer explosion, according to a report from the
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Riverkeeper and other clean water advocates have since called for investigations.