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Does Andy Revkin Have Growing Doubts About NYC's Aging Nuclear Neighbor?
Andy Revkin of the NY Times has been one of Indian Point’s most prominent supporters, but he seems to have growing doubts about NYC’s aging nuclear neighbor to the north.
On June 12, Revkin published an entry on his influential online NY Times blog, DotEarth, with the provocative title Indian Point’s Tritium Problem and the N.R.C.’s Regulatory Problem.
Revkin refers to recent increases in observed levels of radioactive tritium in the groundwater beneath Indian Point, adjacent to the plant’s spent fuel pools. He asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for comment about this disturbing news and also queried David A. Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
That’s where things got interesting.
Revkin wrote that he “agree[s] with Lochbaum on the need for significant changes in [nuke plant] oversight” and quotes Lochbaum as saying, “The N.R.C. should enforce its regulations or change its name…”
Lochbaum is far from the most famous expert to observe that the NRC is a paper tiger, not a real regulator. That honor belongs to our President, Barack Obama, who said, in 2007, The NRC is a “moribund agency. It’s become captive of the industry that it regulates.”
Revkin sent me his essay and I asked him, in reply, “If the NRC is not an effective regulator (which you seem to believe they are not) we should close Indian Point until NRC becomes effective, right? After all, a facility this dangerous should not be in operation without strong regulatory oversight, should it?”
Revkin wrote back almost immediately, and said:
“Why i disagree:
1) no difference in tritium etc risks if shut down.
2) fuel going nowhere whether decommissioned or not.
3) more opportunity to incent best practices etc if company has an interest in keeping things going?”
I showed this response to a number of people who observed that it really ducks the core issue: Does NRC’s unreliability require closure of Indian Point? So, I pressed on, with responses to Revkin on each of his three proposed reasons why closure is not required.
1) no difference in tritium etc risks if shut down.
I responded to this by saying, “Tritium leaks are the just tip of the iceberg. Shutting down Indian Point would eliminate other, far more catastrophic operational risks associated with the plant’s age and lack of effective regulation (like failure to inspect more than 5% of the plant per year, the presence of corroded underground piping, and lax oversight of poor security).”
2) fuel going nowhere whether decommissioned or not.
Here, I pointed out that, “If Indian Point is shut down rather than relicensed, we would avoid the creation of an additional thousand tons of highly-radioactive spent fuel that will significantly increase the risk in an accident or attack. Plus, one unavoidable, ongoing risk—the presence of orphaned spent nuclear fuel—is no reason to prolong a second, avoidable risk—unsafe operation of poorly-regulated 40-year old nuclear reactors.”
3) more opportunity to incent best practices etc if company has an interest in keeping things going?
This one really struck me as naive. So, I observed: “Without a reliable regulator, Entergy has repeatedly gamed the system rather than implement best practices. For example: when the fireproofing insulation on cables supplying power to the reactors were found to be vastly substandard, Entergy did not replace the cables with satisfactory new ones—they asked NRC for a variance which was dutifully granted.”
I closed with:
“Forgive the presumption, Andy, but perhaps your conclusion that we should let Indian Point continue to operate without effective regulation is driven by your concerns about carbon loading. These concerns do not change the fact that Indian Point is at the end of its 40 years of intended use; in close proximity to 18 million people and two earthquake faults that have led NRC to rank the plant as the U.S. nuke facility most at risk for meltdown due to earthquake; that Indian Point has no viable evacuation plan; that its spent fuel pools have five times as much nuclear waste in them as they were designed to hold; and, that the NRC is an unreliable regulator … Riverkeeper believes that we cannot allow our village to be placed at such real and significant risk of destruction in an attempt to save it from climate disruption.”
When I didn’t hear back from Revkin [he's usually very prompt in writing back; like me, I think he enjoys this sort of give and take], I pressed him for a reply, and he said he’d been offline and would have a look.
It’s been a week and still no reply from Revkin. Is he processing? Deciding whether to let the other shoe drop and call for closure?
More likely, he has just moved on.
Meanwhile, one of America’s oldest, most dangerous nuke plants continues to be overseen by a regulator only the industry has faith in. If Andy Revkin can’t explain why this is acceptable to him, doesn’t it mean he’s finally crossed the line from journalist to apologist, when it comes to Indian Point?
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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