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Cuomo: Radioactive Water Leak At Indian Point Increased By 80 Percent Since Last Week

BUCHANAN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The radioactive water leak at the Indian Point Nuclear power plant is getting worse.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday that the level of radioactive tritium-contaminated water that leaked into the groundwater at the nuclear facility has increased by 80 percent since last week's initial report from Entergy.

Cuomo called it "extremely disconcerting."

"Today, I have further directed that the three agencies integrate their investigations to thoroughly explore whether the operational problems that are suspected to have caused the uptick in unexpected outages of the plant may also be causing the leak of radioactive water into the environment. Representatives from the Department of Health, Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Public Service will be onsite as part of these investigations," the New York governor said.

Officials at Indian Point in Buchanan reported on Friday that water contaminated by tritium leaked into the groundwater under the facility. Nuclear regulators said the public wasn't at risk.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman tells the Journal News the agency is sending a radiation specialist to investigate on Thursday.

The specialist will perform visual checks and review the circumstances surrounding the detection. The specialist will also monitor the plant's investigation and have 45 days to record any findings following the review.

The leak occurred after a drain overflowed during a maintenance exercise while workers were transferring water, which has high levels of radioactive contamination, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Normally, a sump pump would take the water and filter it into another treatment system, but the pump apparently was out of service, Sheehan said. After the drain overflowed, the water seeped out of the building into the groundwater.

It was unclear how much water spilled, but samples showed the water had a radioactivity level of more than 8 million picocuries per liter, a 65,000 percent increase from the average at the plant, Cuomo said. The levels are the highest regulators have seen at Indian Point, and the normal number is about 12,300 picocuries per liter, Cuomo said.

Contaminated groundwater would likely slowly make its way to the Hudson River, Sheehan said, but research has shown that water usually ends up in the middle of the river and is so diluted that the levels of radioactivity are nearly undetectable.

"We don't believe there's any concern for members of the public," Sheehan said. "First of all, this water's not going anywhere immediately — and, again, because of the dilution factor, you wouldn't even be able to detect it were you to take a direct sample."

Hudson Riverkeeper Paul Gallay said Indian Point has experienced seven malfunctions since last May and believes its time for the plant to close.

"Indian Point is just not safe anymore," Gallay told WCBS 880's Sean Adams. "It's time has come and gone."

A spokesman for Entergy Corp., the New Orleans-based company that operates Indian Point, said the overflow was "likely the cause of the elevated tritium levels."

"While this instance of tritium in the ground is really not in accordance with our standards, there really is no health or public safety consequence," spokesman Jerry Nappi said.

In a statement, Entergy also said, "While the effect of these elevated values is less than one-tenth of one percent of federal reporting guidelines, Entergy made voluntary notification to the NRC, state agencies and key stakeholders."

There has been a history of groundwater contamination at Indian Point. A federal oversight agency issued a report after about 100,000 gallons of tritium-tainted water entered the groundwater supply in 2009, and elevated levels of tritium also were found in two monitoring wells at the plant in 2014. Officials said then the contamination likely stemmed from an earlier maintenance shutdown.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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