“Indian Point nuclear plant is far from fail-safe” by Gary Shaw

“The nuclear tragedy still unfolding in Japan should serve as a wakeup call for residents of this region that there is no certainty with nuclear power plants.

Indian Point 3 has just been named by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the nuclear reactor in the U.S. that is most likely to suffer reactor core damage due to an earthquake and the stated odds of that happening in any given year are higher

than the odds of winning $100 in the Powerball lottery. The plant was built in close proximity to the intersection of two seismic faults, but only one was known when it was built. It was not built to withstand the earthquake magnitude that scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University say is possible.

Another potential complication is the high pressure natural gas lines that sit almost directly under the plant. If they ruptured and ignited because of an earthquake, imagine the challenge to control them while trying to maintain the safety systems for the

nuclear plant, especially since the NRC recently changed fire protection requirements. Insulating fire wrap that protects safety system wires were required to maintain integrity for one hour, but they reduced the requirement to 24-minutes because they discovered that the wrap will not withstand an hour of fire.

We also have a stockpile of 35 years of radioactive waste at Indian Point. Entergy has said the reactor containment building was built to withstand a 6.1 earthquake. The spent fuel buildings were not built to the same standards. They have the same

type of steel roof that WalMart has in the Cortlandt Town Center.

If the electricity flow to the necessary water pumps was interrupted, backup diesel generators are supposed to kick in. However, during the 2003 blackout, one of their generators that would have powered their communications did not work, so if an emergency had occurred, they would have had difficulties coordinating efforts with first responders. If the generator that pumps cooling water were to stop, we could see the same problem that Japan is experiencing right now. There is a lot more radioactive material in the spent fuel pools than in the reactors. Now imagine that the electricity was interrupted and the gas line ruptured simultaneously. Do you believe that can’t happen in an earthquake?

Nuclear generating plants can and do have very high impact events like the one we are seeing now, and the ones we have seen periodically over the last 30 years. Advocates for Indian Point will say things like, “we simply can’t have a tsunami like Japan did.”

That may be correct, but there was no earthquake or tsunami when Chernobyl exploded or when Three Mile Island had a core meltdown or when the Davis-Besse plant outside Toledo came within a quarter of an inch of breach of containment because of reactor dome corrosion in 2003.

Advocates for nuclear energy tell us that Indian Point can’t have the same kinds of scenarios as Chernobyl, and that we learned from the misjudgments made at Three Mile Island and Davis Besse. Those statements are true. But no amount of training or learning or design modification will make the plants fail-safe, and that is the reason why I was told by Hubert Miller, the then-Regional Director of the NRC, in a public meeting, that “no one can ever guarantee that there will not be a radiation release event at any nuclear plant.”

In fact, Indian Point has had numerous radiation releases, including the steam pipe explosion in February 2000 that sent radioactive steam into the atmosphere and irradiated water into the Hudson. That took IP2 offline for a year. We all know about the numerous leaks of radioactive water. IP is the only plant known to have leaked the highly carcinogenic Strontium 90 into the environment. Cancers from radiation exposure can show up soon or may not show up for decades.

I am not saying that a catastrophic event will definitely occur. I am saying that it could. And if the worst case happens, the consequences are simply too awful to imagine.  Former Westchester County Executive Andy Spano listened to both sides for two years after Sept. 11 and finally recognized that there were potential scenarios that simply could not be accepted. That’s when he called for plant closure. Is that the risk we want to take for 2100 megawatts of electricity, of which Con Edison has contracted only 560 megawatts? Do we want 20-more years of operation to see if we are still lucky?

The writer, a resident of Croton-on-Hudson, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition”

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