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Indian Point’s very, very bad year

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Indian Point’s very, very bad yearA little more than a year ago, a transformer fire and oil spill at the Indian Point nuclear power plant shocked the region. Later it was revealed that the the fire was caused by a short circuit due to insulation failure in a high-voltage coil in the transformer.

Soon after, we learned that at the time of the fire, water was flooding the electrical supply room that provides power to plant safety systems. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “had the flooding not been discovered and stopped in time, the panels could have been submerged, plunging Unit 3 into a dangerous station blackout, in which all alternating current (AC) electricity is lost…. A station blackout led to the meltdown of three nuclear reactor cores at Fukushima Dai-ichi in 2011.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists classifies the incident as a “near miss.”

A few weeks after the transformer fire, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission met with a concerned public at its Annual Assessment for Safety of Indian Point. But many of those who attended felt that the NRC was too deferential to Entergy’s continued claims regarding the aging nuclear plant’s safety. They left the meeting less confident than ever about the nuclear plant’s safety. A year later, it appears their worries are well founded.

Here’s the long list of Indian Point’s accidents, mishaps, and other misfortunes since last year’s Annual Assessment:

  • In June, a mylar balloon floated into a switchyard, causing an electrical disturbance resulting in the shutdown of the Unit 3 reactor.
  • In July, the Unit 3 reactor was shut down after a water pump failure.
  • In December, the Unit 2 reactor was forced to shut down after several of the reactor’s control rods lost power.
  • In December, a string of droppings from a large bird damaged outdoor transmission insulators connected to the Unit 3 reactor, creating an electrical disturbance causing the reactor’s automatic shutdown to trip.
  • Also in December, an electrical anomaly caused the Indian Point 3 reactor to shut down. In response, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that because there had been a “number of recent unplanned outages” there will be “increased inspections and scrutiny” at the site.
  • In February, Entergy reported a severe spike in radioactive, tritium-contaminated water leaked into the groundwater at the facility. Alarming levels of radioactivity were reported at three Indian Point monitoring wells, including one where levels rose 65,000 percent from 12,300 picocuries per liter to over 8 million picocuries per liter. Follow-up tests indicated that the highest concentration was 80 percent higher than what was reported only a few days earlier.
  • During plant refueling in March, a breaker tripped and cut power in one of the reactors. The diesel back-up also failed. A second backup system, fortunately, worked.
  • Also in March, an inspection found that 227 of the 832 bolts that hold the inner plates of the reactor core together were found to be missing or damaged. Entergy, in a report to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission admitted this to be a condition that “significantly degrades plant safety.” This damage to Indian Point Reactor 2’s core is four times worse than any similar problem ever seen at any other American nuclear reactor and experts believe that it could result in a lack of structural stability in the reactor.
  • In May, NRC ruled that its analysis of the costs of a severe accident at Indian Point was misleading, used erroneous data and was in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. Another analysis will need to be conducted.

Though malfunctions can and do happen at any type of power plant, they’re happening with alarming frequency at this aging nuclear facility. Each day Indian Point remains open, the people of the Hudson Valley are collateral in a game of Russian roulette, with our lives and environment at stake.

If the ongoing malfunctions aren’t frightening enough, consider these:

  • The NRC says one of Indian Point’s reactors has the highest risk of earthquake damage of all the nation’s reactors.
  • Federal studies have shown that the plant is severely vulnerable to terrorism.
  • Indian Point has 2,000 tons of radioactive waste overpacked into leaking spent-fuel pools.
  • The evacuation plan in the wake of a catastrophic incident is unworkable. Tens of millions of people would be sitting ducks in the event of a disaster.

And then there’s the slaughter of Hudson River fish to consider: Indian Point kills more than a billion fish eggs and larvae each year through its cooling systems. The radioactive contamination it leaks violates the Clean Water Act and has devastating effects on the river’s ecology. Closing Indian Point would be a step toward restoration of species in decline.

Meanwhile, a huge increase in the availability of replacement power is available from renewables and new and refurbished energy sources. This, combined with improvements in energy efficiency, mean that Indian Point’s 2,000 megawatts of power is no longer needed, even during the hot summer months.

Despite what Entergy tells us, Indian Point is not safe, not secure and not vital. We no longer have to rely on this decrepit nuclear plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should cancel Indian Point’s operating licenses immediately and start overseeing an orderly closing.

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