An environmental group filed an emergency petition concerning the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County Tuesday. It wants a federal regulator to step in to keep one of the reactors shut down.
Environmental attorney Richard Ayres of Ayres Law Group filed the petition on behalf of Washington, D.C.-headquartered Friends of the Earth. The petition asks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue an emergency order preventing Indian Point parent Entergy from restarting Unit 2 until the NRC is satisfied that it knows the root cause of a bolt failure. Separately, New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has requested the same. Ayres says the petition has a second request.
“We asked the Commission to issue an additional emergency order to prevent the continued operation of Unit 3 until it has been inspected, the root cause of any degradation is determined, and the NRC is satisfied the unit is safe to operate,” Ayres says.
Entergy undertook inspections that uncovered the baffle bolt issue during a planned refueling and maintenance outage at Unit 2 in March. It found degradation involving about 227 of these bolts, which amount to some 25 percent, the highest percentage ever found at a U.S. nuclear plant, as confirmed by the NRC. Baffle bolts hold in place baffle plates, which channel cooling water to the reactor core. Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates in Burlington, Vermont, is a nuclear engineer and former nuclear industry executive.
“Replacing the damaged bolts prior to an ultimate root cause analysis may put significant stress on the reactor causing a meltdown in the future,” says Gundersen.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan is says the Commission has not seen the petition but will review it.
“We will form a panel that will carefully assess the issues and determine whether or not this requires immediate action or whether this is something that we can take some additional time to look at,” says Sheehan.
He says in addition to three onsite NRC resident inspectors, three NRC specialist inspectors are at Indian Point this week investigating the baffle bolt issue. Again, Gundersen.
“By insisting that Indian Point 2 replace its bolts prior to analyzing the ultimate root cause of the bolt failures and by allowing Indian Point 3 to allow operating speaks to a failed safety culture within Entergy,” Gundersen says.
Entergy Spokesman Jerry Nappi disagrees.
“As far as a root cause analysis, we’ve done the analyses that show the plants are safe,” Nappi says. “Again, the issue of bolts that lose their strength over time is a known issue and that’s why we look for them and inspect these bolts.”
Sheehan says the NRC will review Entergy’s analysis of the bolts, which was performed by the vendor, Westinghouse, before Unit 2 comes back online, which is expected in late June.
“It’s also provided us analysis of any potential implications for Indian Point Unit 3, which has moved up its baffle former bolt inspection plans from 2019 to 2017,” says Sheehan.
David Freeman is senior advisor to Friends of the Earth and was CEO of the New York Power Authority in the 1990s when he oversaw Indian Point Unit 3.
“Here we have a company that has a single-minded objective — making money,” Freeman says. “And so they don’t have a conflict of interest, they have a serious interest in running the plant this summer, ‘cause if they don’t run it, they don’t get any money.”
“We are taking the time to do all of the necessary bolt replacement. We’re actually replacing bolts that were tested satisfactorily out of an abundance of caution to provide an additional level of assurance that the plant is safe,” Nappi says.
The licenses for Buchanan-based Indian Point 2 and 3 have expired, with the licensing renewal process in progress.