Jepsen sounds warning on Indian Point
Indian Point: Jepsen, N.Y. officials call for full study of facility before relicensing
Published 10:16 p.m., Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen has joined a chorus of New York State officials who oppose relicensing of Indian Point Energy Center's nuclear power plant along the Hudson River.
In comments sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Jepsen cited dangers posed by Indian Point's location near densely populated regions like New York City and Southwestern Connecticut.
"An accident or attack at Indian Point that resulted in a release of radioisotopes could result in a major plume of radioactive debris that would immediately impact health and safety in Connecticut," Jepsen said.
Entergy, which owns Indian Point, is seeking a 20-year extension of its license. Public hearings before the Atomic Safety and Relicensing Board are scheduled to begin in October. Entergy has long argued that Indian Point is safe and complies with all federal regulations. The NRC gave Indian Point a "Green" safety rating for 2011, the best available.
The plant is located in Buchanan, N.Y., some 30 miles from New York City. About a third of Connecticut's population, including all of Fairfield and Litchfield counties, lives within a 50-mile radius of the plant. Millions more inside the 50-mile radius live within the New York metropolitan region, including parts of New Jersey closest to the city.
Jepsen said he opposes relicensing Indian Point until a complete investigation of the environmental impact of operating the 35-year-old plant for another 20 years is completed. He cited the onsite storage of spent nuclear fuel rods, the threat to public drinking water supplies and the need to relocate millions of people in the event of an accident or terrorist act as specific areas of concern. While his statement stopped short of calling for a shutdown, mitigating the risks he cited are generally viewed as impossible.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has taken the same position, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has long opposed relicensing Indian Point and has vowed to shut it down. Schneiderman ran for his office on a platform that included closing Indian Point.
"It's great that Connecticut's attorney general is weighing in," said Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman. "One of our major issues is this is one of the most unique nuclear plants in the world because of its proximity to so many people." A spokesman for Entergy did not return phone calls seeking comment.
A part of the comprehensive review Jepsen demands is under way, the result of a lawsuit filed last year against the NRC by New York state, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and a Minnesota Indian tribe. The states challenged an NRC rule that allowed nuclear plants to store spent fuel rods for 60 years, twice as long as previously permitted, and a federal judge agreed, striking down the rule and ordering a review of the risks of such on-site spent fuel storage.
Hearst Connecticut Newspapers last year reported that nuclear plant operators in New England and at Indian Point, with NRC approval, are storing far more spent fuel than the facilities were designed to accommodate in order to save money by delaying relocating the material to more expensive and safer dry cask storage. The report showed that spent fuel pools, where radioactive fuel rods are stored for up to five years after being removed from a reactor, are holding five times more rods than they were initially designed to store.
A national storage facility had been planned at Yucca Mountain, Nev., but the project was canceled several years ago. As a result, spent fuel remains on site at each of the nation's 104 nuclear power plants.
The storage facilities are essentially deep swimming pools that allow water to circulate and cool the rods. If that water supply is cut off, the rods quickly heat up and can release deadly radiation. Much of the radiation released following the Japanese nuclear disaster last year came from spent fuel pools, which are not encased by thick walls like reactors.
Indian Point is now storing some 2,300 rod assemblies in its two active units. Unit 2 was originally licensed to store 478 assemblies and Unit 3 was licensed to hold 264 assemblies. The two active units at Indian Point were built in the mid-1970s; a third reactor was built in the early 1960s and was shut down in 1974.
Storage of spent fuel rods is not the only issue confronting Indian Point. The plant has a long history of leaks, shutdowns and other problems. In January, Unit 2 was shut down for eight days after one of four pumps that supply cooling water to the reactor blew a seal.
Last year, residents living near the plant were shocked to learn that 600,000 gallons of radioactive steam had escaped from the nuclear plant through an open valve and drifted into their neighborhoods. In 2005, radioactive tritium, which is known to cause cancer, was found in monitoring wells around the plant. Federal officials concluded it came from a leaking spent-fuel storage pool. Tritium levels in one well were 30 times the federal limit for drinking water.
Schneiderman earlier this year successfully challenged 50 fire safety regulation exemptions sought by Indian Point and convinced the NRC to reject 42 of those exemptions. The NRC also ordered the plant to reassess its ability to withstand an earthquake.
New York officials and a variety of anti-nuclear activists have long argued that because Indian Point was built on a known earthquake fault line, and because evacuation of residents, even within the federally mandated 10-mile radius, would be difficult, it should be shut down. A 50-mile evacuation zone is generally regarded as impossible to achieve, given the density of New York City and southwestern Connecticut.
After the tsunami-caused catastrophe last year at the Fukushima Daichi plants in Japan, calls for closing Indian Point have increased.