Editorials

NRC Admits it Can’t Prevent Leaks at Indian Point

“On Earth Day, April 22, I attended the NRC’s Annual Assessment of the Indian Point Nuclear Plant.  The NRC spoke about their on-going observations of Indian Point.  They are always pretty much the same and they generally sound like this – “We found a few issues that you guys should focus on, but we find no major flaws and there is no danger to the public health and safety.”  I have attended these meetings virtually every year for about a decade, since the pipe failure in February 2000 that released radioactive steam into the air and contaminated water into the Hudson through the Buchanan sewer system.  Then the Entergy executives spoke.  This is sometimes infuriating and sometimes hysterically ironic.  At this meeting it was both.  Don Mayer mentioned how well the back-up battery systems on the sirens worked when there were large power outages from our recent severe storms.  This was hilariously ironic because Entergy fought furiously to avoid the expense of the batteries and Mike Slobodein, Entergy’s emergency management director wrote a letter to this newspaper that they preferred an auto-dialer system to alert people that there was an emergency at Indian Point.  I guess he did not realize that many people have wireless home phones that would not work if the power went out and the sirens didn’t work.

An infuriating part was when they mentioned all that they are doing about the on-going leaks through underground pipes and they constantly used the term “non-disruptive.”  What that means is that they are not about to spend the time and money to dig up the pipes that are buried underground to see which ones are degraded and will start to leak soon.  When citizens were allowed to ask questions, I asked the NRC Regional Director about the term “non-disruptive” and whether that meant no external visual examinations of the buried pipes.  I also asked whether that meant that they have no way to prevent more leaks.  His response was that he had already admitted that there was “a gap” in the pipe inspection programs and that he could not say that there would not be leaks in the future.  My question now is how big and how bad will the leaks be?

To provide some context, more than 25% of the operating reactors in this country are known to have had tritiated water leakage problems.  Indian Point is one of them, and in fact, Indian Point is the only one known to have also leaked Strontium, Cesium and Nickel as well as Tritium into the groundwater below the plant.  In February of 2009, they had a pipe leak that was discovered when water ran across a building floor.  The flow took days to control and the company estimates that 100,000 gallons of tritiated water leaked.  The truth is that they do not really know how many gallons went undetected.  These problems will not get better as the plants age.  And the NRC is deciding whether these plants should go for an additional 20 years and have already granted Entergy an extra 50 year allowance to clean up the site when the plant ultimately closes.

Days after the meeting, Entergy VP Fred Dacimo complained in this newspaper that Entergy should not have to build “cooling towers” that would cost more than a billion dollars to build.  He was saying that if Entergy puts some rotating screens in the intake pipes it would be okay to suck in 2.5 billion gallons of Hudson River water each day and shoot it back out twenty to thirty degrees hotter than when it came in.  There is a difference between closed cycle cooling and cooling towers.  Closed cycle cooling reduces the need for water by reusing the same water over and over again.  It uses 90 percent less than the plant does now.  Entergy is not being forced to use cooling towers.  They have been ordered to go to closed cycle cooling which is common in the industry. Entergy’s Vermont Yankee plant already has closed cycle cooling.  The State Department of Environmental Conservation said it would take cost benefit analysis into account if Entergy would provide detailed plans of the type of system it intends to use, along with its building permit applications for verification. Entergy declined.

Time after time this multi-billion dollar corporation plays the victim and looks to maximize profits even if it means more risk for the public or more harm to the environment.”

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