One of the Democratic presidential hopefuls is calling for the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County. His rival says not so fast.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders issued a statement Monday saying he is very concerned that Buchanan-based Indian Point is more than ever before a catastrophe waiting to happen. He cited recent inspections during a planned outage that found 11 percent of bolts that hold plate inserts together inside the reactor are faulty or missing. Sanders also pointed to tritium-contaminated water that leaked into the groundwater at Indian Point earlier this year. However, his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, does not call for an immediate shutdown of the plant in northern Westchester County. The former New York Senator spoke April 4 with “Capital Tonight” on Time Warner Cable News.
“I’m glad he’s discovered Indian Point. When I was a Senator, I went after oversight, I went after safety, and again, Governor Cuomo is calling for it to be closed. There’s a current Nuclear Regulatory Commission study being undertaken. But we also have to be realistic and say, you get 25 percent of the electricity in the greater New York City area from Indian Point. I don’t want middle-class taxpayers to see a huge rate increase. So this has to be done in a careful, thoughtful way.”
Jerry Nappi is spokesman for Indian Point parent Entergy and responds to Sanders’ call for shutting down the plant.
“Indian Point is reliable,” Nappi says. “It provides about 25 percent of the power for New York City and the lower Hudson Valley, and it’s safe, and it’s verified as safe by inspectors who come to the plant each day from the federal government and could shut the plan down in a moment’s notice if they thought it was unsafe.”
Sanders says he is the only presidential candidate in either party with a plan to transition away from what he calls dangerous conventional nuclear power. Paul Gallay is president of Westchester County-based Riverkeeper.
“We have enough power to close Indian Point and still keep the lights on during the hottest day of the summer, and it’ll cost between $0 and $15 a year for the average customer,” Gallay says.
“Indian Point, when it’s online, emits virtually zero greenhouse gases so it’s an important component to New York state trying to meet its clean energy and clean air goals,” says Nappi. “There was a smaller plant, a nuclear plant in Vermont, about one-third the size of Indian Point that closed a couple of years ago. And that resulted in a 7 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions.”
He refers to Vermont Yankee and a report from the non-profit Institute for Energy Research. Gallay maintains the plant has a track record of safety problems.
“Riverkeeper does not take a position on political candidates but it does take a position on issues and, on this issue, as I say, facts are facts, so we’re hoping that all candidates are going to come to the conclusion that Indian Point is no longer safe and we will be better off without it,” says Gallay.
Meanwhile, Sanders referred to the latest inspections uncovering problems with what are called baffle bolts inside the Indian Point 2 reactor. Entergy undertook inspections that uncovered the issue during a planned refueling and maintenance outage March 7. Entergy’s Nappi speaks to the matter.
“Bolt degradation is not unexpected. That’s why we inspect those bolts in the reactor. They’re on inserts that go in and out of the reactors So, we’ll take time to make repairs before putting the plant back online, “ Nappi says. “We identified the issue. These are inspections that we committed to do as part of license renewal.”
Neil Sheehan is spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He says the number of problem bolts at Indian Point 2 is higher than when such bolt problems have been uncovered at other plants. Sheehan describes how the baffle plates and baffle bolts function.
“These plates serve to help direct coolant, or cooling water, that flows down on the outside of these plates but inside the vessel, and then ensure that water coolant is also flowing upward properly through the fuel core, so they serve an important function,” says Sheehan. “When Entergy went in during its current refueling and maintenance outage to inspect the bolts that hold these plates in place, they found degradation involving about 227 of these bolts.”
Sheehan says the NRC will continue to assess the situation.
“Specifically, we will independently determine whether the baffle bolt degradation could have affected the capability of the reactor core barrel to support core cooling during accident conditions,” Sheehan says. “We’ll have an inspection report coming out in the May timeframe that will summarize all of our assessments.”
He says Entergy will have to inspect the baffle bolts in Indian Point 3, but does not expect that a similar number of worn or missing bolts will turn up, given, for one, the reactor’s younger age.