BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Tarrytown – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is holding evidentiary hearings on the safety of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The hearings, which are chaired by an adjudicatory panel, will examine evidence and make recommendations in anticipation of a decision on the renewal of Indian Point’s license.
Among the groups which presented testimonies and evidence are Entergy, the group which owns and operates Indian Point, and interveners from New York State, Clearwater, Inc., and Riverkeeper. Interveners are tasked with raising issues and concerns through evidence, which are addressed by Entergy representatives.
The conference is a formal adjudicatory proceeding which functions like a regular court hearing, with interveners and representatives of various groups pre-filing evidence beforehand. During the proceedings, the judges ask questions to clarify the evidence on ten contentions which address issues related to aging management for piping, emergency management in the case of a severe incident, the value of properties near the plants, environmental impact, and waste management, among other items.
At least one issue has already been resolved. A settlement agreement was reached between Entergy and Riverkeeper on the contention dealing with legacy issues related to a leak in a spent fuel pool and pipe corrosion management.
“The company has set up a series of groundwater-monitoring wells on site and they also sample the river water for any contamination,” Entergy Manager of communications Jerry Nappi said. “One of the points of the settlement was to increase the scope of the sampling in the river.”
Riverkeeper has raised concerns about the inspection frequency of the inspections and particularly the effectiveness of CHECWORKS, a computer system designed to detect regional thinning and leaking pipes with ultrasonic sensors. Riverkeeper has stated that there are concerns that the broad nature of the system could overlook specific weaknesses.
However, according to NRC Public Affairs Officer Neil Sheehan, the CHECWORKS system is widely believed to be adequate in detecting issues and supplements more direct measurements such as a physical measurement of pipes.
“It’s been used throughout the industry,” Sheehan said. “NRC staff testimony is that we do think it’s been an effective program, but on the other hand like everything else involved with nuclear safety, they have to constantly look for ways to upgrade it and update it, and that would be our expectation, but we’ve allowed CHECWORKS. We consider it to be an acceptable way to check for pipe integrity.”
Riverkeeper has stated that if they cannot demonstrate to the panel that the plant is incapable of safe operations and must close, they intend to temper the renewal with further agreements which will allow the plant to function within acceptable environmental and safety regulations.
“It’s also our goal to ensure that if the plant does keep operating, it’s not allowed to overlook or minimize really critical safety issues such as the corrosion that Riverkeeper’s contention raised,” Riverkeeper’s Hudson River Program staff attorney Deborah Brancato said. “If they do continue to operate, they have to have adequate aging management plans in place to handle these aging mechanisms so that there is not an unnecessary risk of accident during this proposed extension.”
Meanwhile, Entergy representative Jerry Nappi maintains that not only is the plant safe, but it will likely be renewed for a subsequent 20-year period.
“NRC staff has already determined that Indian Point can operate safely and with no environmental issues that would preclude license renewal,” Nappi stated. “It’s our belief that we ultimately will achieve license renewal and that these important plants will continue to operate safely.”
Indian Point’s history has not been without incident. In 1973, the steel liner in Indian Point 2 showed signs of weakness, forcing the closure of the facility. Leaks from a steam tube in 2000 closed the same facility for almost a year.
In addition, Tritium and strontium leaked from the plant in 2005, forcing another shutdown. Most recently, there have been issues with a transformer explosion in Unit 2 in 2007and a transformer fire in unit 3 in 2010.
Despite safety issues, Indian Point is a major employer in the Hudson Valley. Local labor represented by unions such as Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 and Teamsters Local 456 expressed support for the plant with a rally at the hearing on October 15, arguing that its closure would put thousands of New Yorkers out of work.
Significant opposition against the plant has come from Congressman Eliot Engel, who stated that the risks are too great to justify a license renewal. Specifically, Engel alluded to the various accidents and security risks at the facility and raised the specter of the Fukushima disaster in Japan as another example of a plant which was close to a seismic fault line.
“The recent tragedy in Japan showed just how devastating a nuclear malfunction can be,” Engel said in public statement. “Indian Point is well past its prime now and most certainly does not have another 20 years left in it. We have the ability to replace the power it provides.”
The hearings in October concluded on October 24. Following a recess, the next session is expected to take place from December 10 to December 14.