Unit 3 at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Westchester County was shut down late last week after a plant operator found indications of a leak. Officials say the small leak could have affected parts of a safety injection system. A constant critic of the plant says it’s just the latest in a long line of issues over the years.
Entergy is Indian Point’s parent company and Jerry Nappi, its spokesman. He says dry boron indicated there was a leak.
“So operators making rounds identified a minor leak from a tank. There’s no water that reached the environment. It’s in a building,” Nappi says. “And engineering determined that to make repairs they had to shut down the plant. So, later that evening, operators shut down Indian Point Unit 3, and trained personnel are making repairs this week to that system.”
That evening was September 7. Neil Sheehan is spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He says the golf-ball sized deposit of dry boron led personnel to a small leak on a boron injection tank that is connected to the safety injection system.
“This leakage could have affected several parts of what’s known as the safety injection system. So, if they were to have a pipe rupture and, all of a sudden, you have water leaking at a very rapid rate out of the reactor vessel, this system is used to pump water back into that, keep the fuel covered and cool,” Sheehan says. “So this is a very important system. It’s one of several systems that can be used to help deal with an accident at the plant.”
He says plant operators determined that the leak could affect the functioning of two of three safety injection pumps. Again, Nappi.
“It’s really no safety significance. There was no challenge to safety at all as a result of this very small leak,” says Nappi. “It’s just an important system that serves a safety-related function in the unlikely event of an emergency, and therefore it’s a system we look at closely and, because it had a very small leak, we took it out of service to fix it.”
Riverkeeper, a party to the plant’s closure agreement, continues its longtime criticism. Cliff Weathers is Riverkeeper spokesman.
“This plant is an aging power plant that is failing; like any mechanical item, it is nearing the end of its life span,” Weathers says. “And it’s a good thing that it’s shutting down in 2021.”
The NRC’s Sheehan.
“They are developing, working on plans to do a weld repair and address this issue. And, once that’s done, they’ll be able to return the unit to service. Our inspectors were there as soon as they learned about this. They were there throughout the weekend trying to gather more information on this and assess the situation,” Sheehan says. “We’re convinced that Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, is following the correct course of action, at this point. And we do not have any immediate safety concerns but we’ll continue to keep close tabs on this.”
Weathers contends this latest leak is another in a long line of problems at the plant.
“Over the past several years, Indian Point’s repeatedly suffered major malfunctions,” Weathers says. “We’ve had had power pump failures, a transformer explosion, we’ve had failing o-rings on the reactors, a fire, an oil spill and even unprecedented failures with the baffle bolts that actually hold the reactor walls in together.”
In 2017, Indian Point completed its replacement of about one-third of Unit 3’s baffle bolts. It followed the replacement in 2016 of roughly the same number in Unit 2. In both cases, the number of degraded bolts was higher than expected. And Indian Point 3 was shut down in June 2017 for planned maintenance to replace two o-rings, or water seals.
Indian Point 3 is slated to shut down permanently in 2021. It is scheduled to undergo its final planned refueling and maintenance outage in spring of 2019. The Buchanan-based plant’s Unit 2 is slated to shut down permanently in 2020.
By Allison Dunne