Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Putting Indian Point Hysteria in Perspective

Colin Smith's rant against Indian Point (New York City's "Three Mile Island", April 4) brings to mind Mark Twain's observation that "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics." By failing to provide any factual backup for the data he cites, Mr. Smith falls flat on his face in his attempt to indict the plant and its operators for allegedly "exposing the public to risk." Worse than that, his ignorance of the real damage that would be inflicted on nature and our local communities if Indian Point were to close, is dangerously irresponsible.

The public deserves far better information from its critics to assess Indian Point's crucial role in our energy, our economy, and our environment.

Let's start with the claim that the plant has harmed us by exposing residents to tritium. Tritium is a form of hydrogen--the "2" in "H2O," also known as water--called an isotope. Tritium is all around us, in infinitesimal amounts. The transient higher concentration that was reported in groundwater at Indian Point--groundwater that at no point becomes drinking water--is more than in your average glass of water, but nonetheless extremely small.

Radiation exists naturally in all the food we eat. If you like potatoes or bananas or tomatoes, among other foods rich in potassium, you're ingesting an isotope called K-40. Just like tritium, it emits a tiny amount of radiation. If, for example, you ate a banana, an order of fries, and a tomato--three commonplace foods-- you're getting more radiation than you would if you drank a whole 8-ounce glass of the groundwater at Indian Point during the recent reported tritium elevation.

No one is going to drink that groundwater, of course, but having perspective is important, because it gets to a very large point: Indian Point is unequivocally safe. The operator, Entergy, has invested a billion dollars in upgrades since 2000-01, when it became the owner-operator of both operating reactors at the plant, and its dedicated and expert professionals--most of whom live in its vicinity--work hand-in-hand with federal regulators who leave nothing to chance. Inspection, maintenance, and improvements are constant and ongoing--which is how the recent tritium level became known in the first place. Vigilance and remediation are how Indian Point detects and addresses any concerns that might affect the operations of the plant.

And here's a more telling point that Mr. Smith conspicuously omitted from his list of grievances. Without Indian Point, we'll suffer from real risks, not artificially inflated ones, 100% of the time. That's because Indian Point's 2000 megawatts of reliable baseload power would have to be replaced by fossil fuels, pumping carbon and pollutants into our air that Indian Point doesn't. And that will raise the incidence of respiratory disease and add to our concerns about climate change.

As with most of his fellow sympathizers who get hysterical fits at the mere mention of Indian Point, Colin Smith is, in essence, dreaming up a make believe risk, ignoring the real story. He, and we, should be careful what he wishes for.

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Arthur "Jerry" Kremer served in the New York State Assembly from 1966 to 1988, eventually becoming chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, a position he held for ten years. He now serves as chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA), a diverse coalition of business, labor, and community leaders and organizations. Entergy, the owner-operator of Indian Point, is a member. Founded in 2003, New York AREA's mission is to ensure that New York State has an ample and reliable electricity supply and economic prosperity for years to come. For more information, visit www.area-alliance.org.