Law to “Protect” the Hudson River Creates Powerful Incentive To Dump Tritium-Laced Water, a Story Other Journalists Got Wrong
Like many others involved in the Stop Holtec/Save the Hudson efforts over the last few months, I permitted myself a moment of self-congratulation Friday when Governor Kathy Hochul, after a long delay, signed legislation that her office declared would “protect the Hudson River From Indian Point decommissioning wastewater” laced with radioactive tritium.
“Hurrah!!! Miracles still happen! All is not lost! Maybe the Gov is indeed on our side…!”
Uh, not so fast.
I just read the bill. It doesn’t ban radioactive discharges.
Sadly, my conclusion is that the bill’s penalty provisions will likely encourage dumping.
Indeed, Holtec International, the very curious private corporation that controls a $2.4 billion trust fund to decommission Indian Point, may not face any state fines should it decided that dumping radioactive wastewater into the Hudson is its most profitable course of action.
You would not know any of this if you read the news reports on the bill signing by the Associated Press, Gannett newspapers, ABC News, and others. These news articles indicate that reporters relied on the governor’s press release and neglected to read the bill, which is only two pages.
That’s age-old journalistic malpractice. At DCReport we read the laws and regulations we write about. Here’s a couple examples of headlines that get it wrong:
The new law authorizes trivial fines for dumping radioactive water, making it logical and lucrative to dump and—maybe—be fined.
What happens should Holtec International dump radioactive waste into the Hudson? The state fine for each radioactive wastewater dump would be up to $37,500.
The cleverly worded new law appears to impose a $75,000 fine for a second dump and a $150,000 fine for the third and each subsequent dump. But read closely this is a legal mirage. The new law provides that “each day constitutes a new violation.”
This means that each new dump resets the clock, limiting the maximum potential fine to $37,500 per discharge unless radioactive wastewater is dumped continuously over multiple days.
If Holtec dumps radioactive waste once a week for a year that would total less than $2 million in possible state fines.
That’s less than a tenth of one percent of the trust fund for decommissioning. And Holtec lawyers might even find a way to deduct the fines on corporate tax returns as a cost of doing business. (Any fines would be paid outside of the trust fund, so this is just a comparison to show how trivial the fines are compared to the expected cleanup costs.)
Holtec may challenge any state fines, arguing that the new state law is preempted by federal law. Then again, challenging any state fines would surely cost more in lawyer fees than just paying the state, assuming the independently elected state attorney general, Letitia James, imposes fines.
Our goal was a strong state law to prevent dumping any of the 1.3 million gallons of water laced with radioactive tritium. That toxic water is now held in storage tanks at Indian Point’s three nuclear power plants. We didn’t want any radioactive tritium entering the bodies of clams, mussels, fish, and other aquatic life, some of which would surely make its way to human stomachs.
There’s also the economic effect of making the Hudson into a radioactive sewer.Our goal was never for the state to collect fines.
Radioactive tritium has a half-life of 12.3 years. The radioactive wastewater would be better kept in Indian Point storage tanks for a century so it can decay naturally. But of course, that would cost Holtec far more than just exposing us to the radioactive material.
Very Private Company
Holtec International is a curious and very private corporation.
Corporate disclosure filings in the United States and the United Kingdom read like nondisclosure documents, citing loopholes when withholding basic facts about finances, obligations and ultimate control of the enterprises formed under the corporate umbrella of Holtec International.
The corporate parent appears to be owned by two Florida trusts, but Florida law makes such trusts so opaque that we have no confirmation who ultimately owns and benefits from Holtec’s business model, which involves both decommissioning nuclear power plants and building new ones.
The legislation Hochul signed came after four months of frantic efforts by volunteers. They collected 480,000 signatures on a petition while alerting people in 130 local communities. Dozens of citizens groups and scores of elected officials joined in.
The legislation passed the New York Legislature in mid-June by overwhelming votes. The State Senate vote was 62-0.
NY State Senate Bill 6893 then sat untouched for two months after passage under the dubious Albany “custom” that bills are presented to the governor for signature only when she asks for them.
In effect, then, this Bill has effectively just licensed Holtec to dump unlimited tritium into the Hudson River, for a pittance. It will not halt dumping; it will have legalized it – with the unintended support of the entire Stop Holtec Coalition.
We’ll keep watch to see what happens. Will other news organizations correct their egregious misreporting? Will the nearly half million people who signed the petition demand a new law in line with what the governor and Albany lawmakers said or let them get away with this deception? And will Holtec start dumping radioactive wastewater into the Hudson River in the meantime?