“BUCHANAN – Debris, ice and low tides were apparently to blame yesterday
morning for clogging up the Hudson River intake system of Indian Point 3,
leaving the plant with lower-than-normal levels of water to cool pumps and
other machinery.

The incident was serious enough for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the plant’s
owner and operator, to declare it an “unusual event,” the lowest of four
emergency classifications.

“There was never any threat to the public,” said Susan Tolchin, Westchester
County Executive Andrew Spano’s chief adviser. “Entergy handled it in an
appropriate manner. However, this brings up the issue once again that this
nuclear power plant should not be located in Westchester County, in a
highly populated area.”

Across the river, Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef called for
more frequent maintenance of the intake system, which Rockland officials
said they were told was tuned up twice a year.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Entergy officials gave this account
of yesterday’s incident:

At 5:53 a.m., control room operators at Indian Point 3 received an alarm
indicating a problem with rotating screens that strain debris from the
billions of gallons of Hudson River water cycled through the plants daily
to cool its nonradioactive parts.

Four minutes later, the pumps that are used to wash debris off the screens
stopped working because of low-water levels. The river was at low tide and
the near-freezing temperature of the river itself led to speculation that
ice was blocking the intake.

By 7:07 a.m., water reservoir levels subsided to 4 1/2 feet below mean sea
level, triggering the requirement to notify the NRC and emergency officials
from Westchester and the surrounding counties.

A rising tide restored the water levels for the pumps, and the emergency
designation was removed at 10:14 a.m.

Entergy planned yesterday to send divers into the water to clean the lower
parts of the screens so that low tides wouldn’t create similar problems.

Entergy officials said that the incident did not affect the operation of
Indian Point 3.

Vanderhoef’s spokeswoman, C.J. Miller, said the plant needs to figure out a
more effective way to keep the screens clear of debris.

“If this was weather-related, that’s one thing,” Miller said. “But if it’s
an ongoing maintenance issue, it needs to be addressed.”

Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said the screen were cleaned in November and
the plant backwashes its system monthly to clear debris as well.

“This wasn’t debris by itself, so I don’t think maintenance is an issue at
all,” Steets said. “I think it’s a matter of two extremes – low tide and
low temperature – combining with normal amounts of debris.”

Steets said he wasn’t sure of the frequency of the screen-cleaning program
other than the monthly backwashes.

Rep. John Hall, D-Dover Plains, said the event made him question the
overall safety of the nuclear plant.

“If a bunch of debris from the river is all it takes to cause an emergency
at Indian Point, imagine what could happen during equipment malfunctions
or, God forbid, a terrorist attack,” Hall said. “This only underscores the
importance of carefully scrutinizing the plant’s proposed relicensing and
moving full-speed ahead on the development of alternative forms of energy
that are safe and renewable.””

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