Explosion, Fire, Oil Spill at Indian Point Nuclear Power Facility

ip_explosionAround 6:00 pm Saturday evening, a transformer at the Indian Point nuclear power facility in Buchanan NY – just 25 miles from the NYC border – exploded and burst into flame. No injuries were reported but independent monitors recorded a spike in radioactive emissions of 2 -3 times the normal rate. Emergency crews initially put out the fire but it burst into flames again later on. The explosion ruptured the transformer causing a leak of the oil used to cool it, which went into a holding tank that then overflowed, discharging  thousands of gallons of the oil into the Hudson River. The explosion also initiated a shut down of the #3 reactor as a precaution. There’s no word yet when it will go back on line.  More information is provided in the articles and reports linked below.

An incident like this only adds to our argument for the complete shutdown and decommissioning of Indian Point.  A number of concerns and issues need to be restated at this time:

  • Indian Point is located in one of the most densely populated locations on the planet, only 25 miles from the New York City border, and just 35 miles from the heart of the city. A nuclear reactor would never be given permission today to be built in this location.
  • To date, no adequate evacuation plan has been devised in the event of a nuclear catastrophe at the plant, if indeed, such a plan is even possible.
  • The lifetime of the reactors is 30 – 40 years at best. The original aged and crumbling #1 reactor, opened in 1962, has been shut down for years. Of the two remaining reactors, #2, opened in 1973, is currently operating with an expired license, and #3, opened in 1976, will have it’s license expire in December 2015. Indian Point will be the only nuclear facility in the U. S. operating without a license.
  • Directly related to Saturday’s accident, the fire resistant material around the transformers is supposed to have a rating of 3 hours. In fact, the rating for the material in use now is only 24 minutes. The NRC allowed Entergy to ignore the rules, and has been in litigation over the matter since 2007.
  • This latest accident also dispels the myth perpetrated and perpetuated by the nuclear industry, and nuclear proponents such as James Hansen, that nuclear power is clean, green and carbon free. The discharge into the Hudson of oil needed to cool the transformers illustrates the point that nuclear power plants are still dependent on fossil fuels, from the production and transport of materials to the plant, to the operation of the various systems and machinery required to keep the plant operating.
  • This accident is just the latest in a list of accidents and events that have occurred over the years. (see list at bottom of page)
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), over the objections of environmental and community groups, just recently approved the construction of a 42″ fracked gas pipeline extension that will run just yards behind Indian Point. What will happen if (and when) and explosion like this occurs again in the vicinity of a highly volatile gas that is sometimes released on purpose, if not by accident, from these pipelines.
  • To compound that problem, Indian Point is located less than a mile from the Ramapo Faultline, one of the surprisngly many active earthquake regions in the NY and NJ area. Earthquakes registering as high as 5.2 on the Richter Scale have occurred in the region. Entergy claims that IP can withstand an earthquake of 6.1.
  • How susceptible is Indian Point to damage from storms like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy? IP seems to have dodged bullets with both these recent superstorms but the dangers increase each passing day as climate change and the resulting rising water levels continue. Flooding from massive storms could lead to a Fukushima type disaster.
  • Despite the claims by Entergy that New York needs the power provided by Indian Point, facts prove that only a very small percentage of power is actually provided – much less than the 25% that Entergy claims. With improvements in the energy efficiency of consumer products, the introduction of new technologies, and the increased use of alternative energy sources, there are no  justifications left for the continued operation of Indian Point.

Links to articles and reports on the explosion: 

Past Incidents at Indian Point:

  • In 1973, five months after Indian Point 2 opened, the plant was shut down when engineers discovered buckling in the steel liner of the concrete dome in which the nuclear reactor is housed.
  • On October 17, 1980, 100,000 gallons of Hudson River water leaked into the Indian Point 2 containment building from the fan cooling unit, undetected by a safety device designed to detect hot water. The flooding, covering the first 9 feet of the reactor vessel, was discovered when technicians entered the building. Two pumps which should have removed the water were found to be inoperative. NRC proposed a $2,100,000 fine for the incident.
  • In February 2000, Unit 2 experienced a Steam Generator Tube Rupture (SGTR), which allowed a small amount of primary water to leak into the secondary system through one of the steam generators. All four steam generators were subsequently replaced.
  • In 2005, Entergy workers while digging discovered a small leak in a spent fuel pool. Water containing tritium and strontium-90 was leaking through a crack in the pool building and then finding its way into the nearby Hudson River. Workers were able to keep the spent fuel rods safely covered despite the leak. On March 22, 2006 The New York Times also reported finding radioactive nickel-63 and strontium in groundwater on site.
  • In 2007, a transformer at Unit 3 caught fire, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raised its level of inspections, because the plant had experienced many unplanned shutdowns. According to The New York Times, Indian Point “has a history of transformer problems.”
  • On April 23, 2007, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined the owner of the Indian Point nuclear plant $130,000 for failing to meet a deadline for a new emergency siren plan. The 150 sirens at the plant are meant to alert residents within 10 miles to a plant emergency. Since 2008, a Rockland County based private company has taken over responsibility for the infrastructure used to trigger and maintain the ATI siren system. The sirens, once plagued with failures, have functioned nearly flawlessly ever since.
  • On January 7, 2010, NRC inspectors reported that an estimated 600,000 gallons of mildly radioactive steam was intentionally vented to the atmosphere after an automatic shutdown of Unit 2. After the vent, one of the vent valves unintentionally remained slightly open for two days. The levels of tritium in the steam were within the allowable safety limits defined in NRC standards.
  • On November 7, 2010, an explosion occurred in the main transformer for Indian Point 2, spilling oil into the Hudson River. Entergy later agreed to pay a $1.2 million penalty for the transformer explosion.

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