Entergy Corporation’s Indian Point nuclear power plant, located just 38 miles north of New York City, was commissioned in 1974 and has had a number of incidents, the latest on May 9. A transformer explosion caused a fire and the release of several thousand gallons of oil into the Hudson River. According to Entergy spokesperson Patricia Kakridathat, the explosion took place on the ‘non nuclear’ side of Unit 3 and the oil that was released is “almost like vegetable oil” and poses no risk to the environment.
This is the third transformer failure in eight years at the facility and Entergy has no idea why its transformers continue to fail. The transformer that blew on the 9th had just been inspected this past March.
Add to the history of incidents the age of the facility and the fact that it is located on or near three earthquake faults and you have a recipe for disaster that puts one in mind of the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima. Seismologists predict an eventual quake that will outstrip Indian Point’s tolerance level.
Indian Point is currently going through the process of being relicensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to continue operating for another 20 years. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, along with environmental groups, have submitted petitions to the NRC to amend the relicensing process to include both “passive” and “active” components to be reviewed. The current requirements only stipulate review of the “passive” components. “Active” components are exempt.
At first, the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled in favor of the petitions but then reversed itself in March, writing that “the board erred in its factual and legal determinations” and concluded that the transformers don’t require the “aging management review” required of “passive” components during the re-licensing process.
A Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Riverkeeper report conducted in 2011 urged closing the facility and replacing it with safe, alternative energy options. Within ten years, the changeover could be accomplished and the risk of a major incident in close proximity to the millions of people in the region could be safely avoided. The report illustrated that the NRC “underestimates the danger posed to Indian point from seismic activity.”
“An accident at one of (its) reactors on the scale of the recent catastrophe in Japan could send a fallout plume south to the New York City metropolitan area, requiring the sheltering or evacuation of millions of people, and cost ten to 100 times more than Fukushima’s disaster.”
New York has a surplus of electric generating capacity, giving it ample time to phase out the potential dangers of the Indian Point plant and phase in clean, safe and renewable energy. At present, Indian Point is running under a “period of extended operation” while the relicensing proceedings are underway. Those proceedings are not expected to be completed until at least 2018 or perhaps longer. Operations through that time frame are not affected and the possibility of a disaster rivaling Fukushima are very real.