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“100 tons of dreck cleaned out of pipes” by Greg Clary

“BUCHANAN – Tucked into a recently released report on radioactive contamination at Indian Point is a note from federal regulators about more than 100 tons of debris that power plant workers found built up in the storm-water system since the 1950s.

The underground pipes – 3 feet wide in some cases – are not connected to the radioactive operation at the nuclear plant but were examined as part of the investigation into tritium and strontium 90 leaks at the plant.

Hydrologists working for plant owner Entergy Nuclear wanted to make sure storm water wasn’t influencing the movement of radiated water underground.

Company officials said monitoring wells dug at the site turned up little evidence of storm water reaching contaminated areas.

John White, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission official in charge of the groundwater inspection, said the amount of debris was significant, and that the company had cleaned out the pipes by the fall of last year.

The NRC included the information in the 56-page report to make the document as comprehensive as possible, agency officials said.

It appears the storm-water pipes have not affected the movement of radiation, White said.

“They never did any extensive maintenance repair of the system over time,” he said. “Now they have a maintenance program in place.”

Donald Mayer, the Indian Point official in charge of the groundwater contamination project, explained that workers found the debris by running cameras into the pipes and vacuuming out the sediment before it was disposed of as radioactive waste.

“We just wanted to be on the safe side,” he said. “We did some repairs, but they were relatively minor. Cleaning the debris out was quite an effort.”

Mayer didn’t have an exact cost of the cleanup, but he estimated it was “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Underground piping at Indian Point has gained in profile in the past two years as Entergy officials exercised their right to apply for 20-year license renewals for the two working nuclear reactors at the 50-acre site.

Critics of the company have presented arguments to the NRC against the relicensing, highlighting the difficulty in determining whether buried piping that carries radioactive water under high pressure can be adequately maintained through 2035.

Company officials will have to prove to the NRC that they have adequate plans to manage the aging infrastructure to be granted an extension. Though the storm-water system is different than the piping system that serves the reactors, Mayer and White said the overall robust condition of the rain runoff pipes was a positive sign.

“There were no significant stoppages or problems,” White said, adding that sampling of water being released into the Hudson River showed strontium or tritium levels had not changed after the debris was removed.”

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