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More troubles at Indian Point nuclear power plant

indianpoint2090810_optUnexplained mechanical failures force seventh unplanned shut down in past two years

BY ROGER WITHERSPOON
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

A series of unexplained mechanical failures — including a large hot water leak and the activation of a fire suppression system — triggered an emergency shut down of Indian Point 3 late Thursday night. It is the seventh unplanned shut down between the twin Indian Point reactors in the past two years. The facility is located less than 20 miles from the New Jersey border in New York.

The latest mishap comes just one week after failures in the steam generation system forced the shut down of the companion nuclear reactor at Indian Point 2. That reactor is still off line while engineers at Entergy Nuclear Northeast, owners of the Indian Point site, try to find what caused rising water levels in its massive steam generators, and triggered an automatic shut down.

Last week's event prompted inspectors for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to begin an investigation in the management of the nuclear site's major equipment, since it was the sixth unplanned scram. While the NRC has treated the shut downs, or "reactor trips," as separate incidents, officials now are looking to see if there are common elements in overall management and training leading to the disruptions at the site.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said "this trip will affect the Indian Point 3 performance indicator for Unplanned Scrams per 7,000 hours."

Plants having three or more outages within that time frame have their performance ranking downgraded and receive increased numbers and types of inspections from federal regulators.

Related:

Nuclear Regulatory Commission probes Indian Point

Graphic

Operators at Indian Point 3 shut down the reactor bout 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Sheehan said, when a plant operator "observed water within the main generator exciter housing, a metal enclosure that surrounds the exciter. Steam generated by the reactor is used to turn the turbine, which in turn powers the generator; the generator sends power to a transformer and from there to the switchyard and from there to the grid.

Entergy officials declined to state how much water was leaking into the area, but David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, "It must have been a significant leak. A less severe leak typically allows time for operators to reduce the reactor power level before tripping it. In this case, they had to do it immediately."

Lochbaum spent most of his career in the nuclear engineer as a safety consultant, including a stint working at Indian Point 3, where he was in charge of ensuring their reactor safety systems were updated to meet NRC and license standards. He left the UCS in 2009 to spend a year working for the NRC, updating their operating training manual and teaching reactor safety to agency inspectors.

According to the incident report filed by Entergy, the shutdown of the reactor caused a secondary problem: the transfer of power within the plant from the generator to outside electrical sources did not occur properly and, as a result, one of the four reactor coolant pumps shut off.

Under normal operating conditions, about 10 megawatts of electricity produced by the 1,100-megawatt plant is routed back to Indian Point to maintain its various machines and systems. In the event of a complete power failure, the plant maintains emergency diesel generators so it can always maintain reactor control. It is not known at this point why the transfer to outside power in this case was not seamless.

In addition, instead of cool air circulating within the generator housing, Lochbaum said a feedwater pump serving the main boiler opened, and hot water flowing through that system "flashed to steam. There must have been a lot steam because fire sensors detected the temperature rise and signaled a carbon dioxide release to put out the fire that didn't really exist."

Though the plant's automated fire detection system thought there was a fire and acted, workers on site knew otherwise and, therefore, no human fire units were mobilized to the scene, Sheehan said.

Over the past two years there have been a series of sudden shut downs at Indian Point. The steam generators in Indian Point 2 shut down due to erratic water levels April 21, 2008 and April 3 2009, and September 3, 2010; while Indian Point 3 shut down May 15, 28, and 31, 2009.

Presently, both plants at Indian Point are rated "green," the highest level in the NRC's color coded matrix of plant operator competence. But they face a demotion as a result of the last two reactor shut downs. The NRC ratings descend from green to white, yellow, and then red. According to the NRC, only seven of the nation's 104 operating reactors are at the yellow level, and none are "red" a level where the agency is calling the shots on nearly all vital plant operations and can shut it down at any time.

Indian Point 2 had been on the red list from 2000 to 2003. It went from the worst performing plant in the nation to one of its best after Entergy invested $500 million replacing ageing, defective equipment and completely retraining the staff.

Roger Witherspoon writes Energy Matters at www.RogerWitherspoon.com

 
Comments (12)
12 Saturday, 15 October 2011 13:45
Joon
I just wanted to know if someone blows up the power plant then if New york City or Queens county could have any fatal damage..
I am just a civilian in Queens
11 Tuesday, 14 September 2010 16:05
Debbie Ellis
I won't repeat the many well spoken posts. In short, it's past time to close this plant. Current day, it would never be licensed on that site, putting the current population in jeopardy if there were an accident. There is no hope of a safe evacuation in such a populated area. Close it and retrain the workers,
10 Tuesday, 14 September 2010 07:05
Dorothy Shays Dangerfield
I remember when they were planning to build Indian Point. They admitted that they did not know what to do with the waste but said they would figure it out after the plant was built. Well, they still haven't. How stupid to build a plant which is potentially so dangerous in such a major population area. We have the opportunity to correct that now.
9 Monday, 13 September 2010 23:33
Barbara Ehrentreu
In the sixteen years I have lived in the area near Indian Point I have worried there would be an incident like Chernobyl. Now with this "scramming" that happened the other day, coupled with the hundreds of safety reports that state there are problems with the safety procedures there, it seems the only right thing to do is shut down Indian Point for good. Entergy may have made some improvements, but this facility is too old to continue to operate. The person who mentioned the California gas explosion was right. When a plant finds that there are too many instances of leaks and safety is an issue then it should cease to operate or fix what can be fixed. Unfortunately, the more they seem to fix there the more there are incidents like the other day. The NRA should not license Entergy. This plant at Indian Point is not safe and its record proves that!

Besides the obvious safety issues there are ecological violations from the seeping water into the ground. Fish have been affected in the Hudson River by the seepage. It is time to stop this destruction of the wetlands. Please reconsider and close down this plant!
8 Monday, 13 September 2010 21:04
Andrea Sadler
Indian Point should be decommissioned and made into a museum. A museum with art and stories about bygone days when we toted nuclear power as clean energy. Nuclear Power is dirty energy. Until we solve the problems of the nuclear industry, such as where to store the waste and how to control or repair the damage in case of an unprecedented catasphrophe that would affect millions of people, waters and wildlife in the Hudson Valley region, we have no business relicensing Indian Point or other old plants, let alone create more plants that will cost too many billions to build and maintain. There is a better way. Solar for one. Wind for another. Geothermal for another. We can do this. We are powerful beings. We CAN live on this earth in a sustainable way.
7 Monday, 13 September 2010 20:53
Susan Shapiro
Nuclear Power us nothing more than a failed science experiment thats life cycle has come to an end. Even the greatest supporters of nuclear power know that there is no way to dispose of the radioactive waste, and that Yucca Mountain or any other central depository will never be approved b/c no where is geological stable enough. That means Indian Point, Oyster Creek and the 103 nuclear plans in the nation are now permanent high level radioactive permanent waste dumps which are leaking into the rivers and groundwater. The sooner Indian Point is closed the sooner our tax dollars can be used to figure out how to clean up this mess, instead of continuing to subsidize the dirtiest, deadliest form of energy. If only a portion of the tax subsidize the nuclear industry gets annually is given to true sustainable energy, wind, wave, solar, geothermal in a very short time we will end our dependence on foreign oil and deadly nuclear.
6 Monday, 13 September 2010 20:48
Mark Fry
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More troubles at Indian Point nuclear power plant
Unexplained mechanical failures force seventh unplanned shut down in past two years BY ROGER WITHERSPOON NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM A series of unexplained mechanical failures — including a large hot water leak and the activation of a fire suppression system — triggered an emergency shut down of Indian Point 3 late Thursday night. It is the seventh unplanned shut down between the twin Indian Point reactors in the past two years. The facility is located less than 20 miles from the New Jersey border in New York. The latest mishap comes just one week after failures in the steam generation system forced the shut down of the companion nuclear reactor at Indian Point 2. That reactor is still off line while engineers at Entergy Nuclear Northeast, owners of the Indian Point site, try to find what caused rising water levels in its massive steam generators, and triggered an automatic shut down. Last week's event prompted inspectors for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to begin an investigation in t...
Indian Point Safety 1 Monday, 13 September 2010 20:46 Mark Fry
I've lived in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, less than twenty miles from Indian Point, for 24 years. I've followed the Indian Point news very closely, and have been appalled to learn of the repeated failures of the plant operators to maintain the plant in a safe operating condition. Seven unplanned emergency shutdowns in three years is unacceptable.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commision defines "Scram" as follows:

"The sudden shutting down of a nuclear reactor, usually by rapid insertion of control rods, either automatically or manually by the reactor operator. Also known as a “reactor trip,” “scram” is actually an acronym for “safety control rod axe man,” the worker assigned to insert the emergency rod on the first reactor (the Chicago Pile) in the United States" [The term was coined by Enrico Fermi]

The procedure, which takes just four seconds, is designed to prevent a catastrophic nuclear meltdown. But almost nothing at Indian Point works as designed, as the recent radioactive water releases to nearby ground water have shown. Entergy's own engineers are scratching their heads each time there is an "unexplained" reactor trip.

Let's all be thankful that we haven't all experienced a Chernobyl first hand, at least not yet.

And let's be sure that we all encourage the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the New York Department of Environmental Protection to step in to enforce the law, permanently shut down the plant, and prevent an unimaginable disaster in an area with 25 million people.

The recent gas line explosion in California, which was caused by a corporate failure to replace leaking 54 year old high pressure natural gas piping is just one more tragic example of what happens when our corporations put profits before safety.

Let's not forget, as we learned in the BP spill, that our regulatory agencies fail to regulate.

How many close calls do we need? Let's shut it down.
5 Monday, 13 September 2010 20:19
Jenny Evans
If you look at the statistics, nuclear power plants function well and safely for many years and then they reach a point where they encounter problem after problem. Indian Point has reached that stage and its time to decommission it.
4 Monday, 13 September 2010 18:16
Stephen Kent
The latest power outage at Indian Point illustrates that it is both dangerous and unneeded. It is one of oldest, most troubled plants in the US in the most densely populated area. Pipes and fittings are embrittled, leaks are common, mysterious shutdowns happen frequently, always with the refrain that there is "no danger to the public," though radiation release monitoring data is never made available. Entergy has a history of prevaricating, withholding information and lying to the public. The noteworthy thing about the latest shutdown is that both plants (IP2 and IP3) were offline in hot weather, and nothing happened -- the lights didn't go out. An independent study of electricity supply without Indian Point indicate supply would be adequate without it, power could be wheeled from other sources, and rates would go up on average something like $100 a month. Indian Point functions largely as a peaker plant -- a resource for extra power during peak summer demand which grid managers like to have in reserve. But given its history of radiation leaks, the documented impossibility of evacuation in this congested area, it should be closed. The plants licenses expire in 2012 and 2013 if I remember correctly. Entergy, whose incentive is to milk the plants as cash cows, and whose financing depends on trading on its future profits, has applied for, and is on track to receive, 20 year license extensions. That would mean these aging, troubled plants would continue to threaten the area for decades beyond their design basis, while they grow yet older and more troubled, and are run preposterously beyond what their designers even intended. This is a recipe for disaster. At a minimum, license extension should be denied and we should begin the process now of decommissioning these plants on time, conformant to their design basis. I for one would be overjoyed to pay a little more for electricity in the summer months if it means my home is not irradiated by a catastrophic meltdown, which despite what nuclear executives say is perfectly possible at this plant, even reasonably probable, or my kids or don't get cancer or genetic mutations from the constant "routine" releases of manmade radioactive isotopes from which, it is always claimed, "there is no danger to the public." We've been lucky so far, but we are pushing our luck dangerously. It is high time to decommission Indian Point.
3 Monday, 13 September 2010 08:11
Conrad Miller MD
Indian Point and nuclear plants in general are expensive dangerous gizmos that indeed should be feared. They are not a little mousetrap that only goes snap and that's it. When that next spill or Chernobyl happens - and Indian Point IS leaking into the groundwater - maybe 300 feet the plume is now from the Hudson River - and this is not publicized - then we have the strontium and other radionuclides' radioactive pollution to worry about for hundreds and thousands of years. Yes, maybe on most days everything is just hunky dory, but there are ventings and leaks and crackings of aged plants too-long-running. And the industry needs subsidies to survive, like in Georgia, where they are pre-billing citizens to pay for their nuclear plants! And the promised increase has suddenly become triple what was initially promised already, and the plants are far from built. They may take 7-10 years to be 'finished' - IF they ever get built - and if they are not built, the utilities I'm sure will keep the money they get from the suckered rate payers. Same story happening in Florida. Though many nuclear workers praise their industry, when the big one happens, all their pep talking will be for naught. Remember, only one microgram is the lung cancer-causing dose of plutonium. There are one million micrograms in one gram and 454 grams in one pound. That means if dispersed in small enough particles in a vaporizing accident, just one pound of plutonium can cause 454 MILLION lung cancers possibly. And 20 pounds theoretically could give every human on Earth a lung cancer, and the victim would not know where the lung cancer came from. Each nuclear plant produces between 400 and 1000 pounds of plutonium every year. We have 104 nuclear plants in the USA. Plutonium has a half life of 24,000 years - that means that AFTER 24,000 years, half of the plutonium is STILL radioactive enough to give you a lung cancer, so, actually, experts tell us that we have to worry for 10-20 half lives for every radionuclide during its so-called 'hazardous life.' For plutonium that is 240,000 to 480,000 years! That's a wonderful heritage we're leaving for our children and grandchildren, isn't it? And there are over 500 different radionuclides produced in each nuclear plant every day. And we still do not know how to safely dispose of any of the nuclear waste. Meanwhile tho most of us Americans do not know this: the USA is now Number One in windpower on planet Earth! In the seven years, let's say seven years, it may take to build those 2 Georgia new nuclear plants in an impoverished area of that state - we could erect 10,000 megawatts of wind per year - as we did in 2009 - safe and sound, no long-lived danger of producing cancer and other radioactively induced diseases - that would be 70,000 megawatts over 7 years - with a 33% capacity factor (compared to a supposed 92% capacity factor for nuclear power) - meaning each year 10,000 megawatts of wind would equal 3 new nuclear plants but in safe wind turbines. Over 7 years that would be the equal of 21 nuclear plants in safe wind turbines. Each clipper 2.5 megawatt wind turbine can supply the electricity for 675 homes. Put one in some farmer's field outside of your little town, and let the farmer make the money for his electricity generation. Isn't that a much wiser and now-happening choice for our energy future than the foolish albatross of nuclear power??
2 Sunday, 12 September 2010 23:07
Roger Witherspoon
Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford has stated ''If a Secretary of Agriculture endorsed better meat inspection, you wouldn't have a debate of near religious fervor about whether that person was pro- or anti-meat, whether he had sold out to the vegetarians. You'd debate whether the stricter regulations made sense.
"It's somehow unique to nuclear power that, when one refuses to have nuclear power on the industry's terms, one gets chucked into a bin labeled 'anti-nuclear.' ''
The fact that a nuclear plant shuts down automatically -- or manually as in this latest case -- does not negate that fact that something went wrong, requiring the action. Reporting why a plant shut down, instead of mindlessly quoting a press release that there is no danger to the public is the job of a journalist. It is not a pro or con diatribe. It is, simply, what happened.
The notion that there can not be a serious accident affecting the public makes as much sense at the oil industry's long standing assertion that deep water oil spills are impossible. Every plant has a a lengthy SAMA -- Severe Accident Mitigation Assessment -- delineating some of the ways a catastrophic accident can occur and the ramifications to the public. The likelihood of these happening may be slim. But they are not impossible.
The contention that the presence of NRC inspectors means nothing can go wrong is false: if that were the case more than half of the operating reactors would not have spilled millions of gallons of contaminated water into local waterways and watersheds without being detected by the companies or the regulators.
Until 9/11/01, the NRC's analysis of containment buildings stated they were vulnerable to crashes from commercial jets, but the notion of a deliberate crash was too far fetched to be taken seriously or considered.
Commercial nuclear power would be better understood, and not feared if, when something occurs, those in the industry would explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how such a mistake may be avoided in the future rather than asserting that mistakes can't happen and attacking those crass enough to point to failures.
1 Sunday, 12 September 2010 04:48
Michael Mann
Nuclear power plants are designed to be very safe, there are dozens of parameters monitored and they all must be maintained along with back-up systems which have never been needed, any of these are not normal and the plant will automatically, or by procedure, shut down. Everything must be verified operable before restart is commenced. It is much easier to shut down a commercial nuclear power plant than keep it online. Even with all of that, nuclear power plants, on average, have a capacity factor over 90%. I have 30 yrs. experience with nuclear power, I calibrate and maintain the safety systems, my family and I live within 10 miles of the plant where I work. Nuclear power is to be respected, and understood, not feared. Nuclear power has the potential to provide a clean prosperous future.

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