Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant Continues Rusting and Leaking

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant Continues Rusting and Leaking

Just 24 miles north of New York City, Indian Point remains in operation as one of the oldest and most troublesome of the nation’s 103 nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) refers to Indian Point as the most problematic nuclear facility in the country. A few years ago, Patrick Milano, the NRC’s project manager for its Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, gave Indian Point officials 30 days to prove that rusted areas in the steel lining of the containment shell did not pose health risks to local communities and the environment.

Entergy Nuclear, the owner of Indian Point, had stated that the rust is the result of leaks inside the building and that there were no integrity problems with the containment structure. The NRC was concerned that the rust may have created holes in the steel liner and concrete that could leak radiation in the event of an operational emergency.

Pressure tests of the containment shells are required to be performed every ten years at each of the nation’s nuclear power plants. Loss of structural integrity of the containment shell would cause a pressure test failure. The fact that Entergy had asked the NRC for a five-year postponement of Indian Point’s pressure tests has not inspired much confidence in the facility. The NRC considered granting the extension only if Entergy could convince inspectors that the rust did not pose a serious threat to safe operation of the plant.

The track record at Indian Point is something less than stellar. In fact, the corrosion problems are tied to a flood that occurred 23 years ago, when 200,000 gallons of water inundated the building before the leaking air conditioning pipes were found. During that flood, the water level rose nine feet around the reactor. Although the leak was repaired, problems stemming from water damage were ignored, giving rise to the corrosion that plagues the facility to this day.

On February 15th, 2000, a pipe burst on one of Indian Point’s aging steam generators, sending radioactive fluids into the “clean water” system and releasing a small amount of radioactive steam into the air. Not long thereafter, Indian Point officials had to notify the NRC regarding a leak on one of their new steam generators. The exact source of the leak was not known at the time they made the report.

The persistent operational problems at Indian Point combined with obvious and longstanding terrorist threats have had the effect of increasing the pressure to permanently close the plant. Indian Point’s survival will depend on whether the public outcry, which politicians have taken very seriously, is loud enough to compel a closure of the facility. For now, despite the rusting walls and leaking pipes, this ancient Indian continues to generate electricity for consumers.