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Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant Continues Rusting and Leaking
Just 24 miles north of New York, Indian Point remains in operation as one of the nation’s oldest and most troublesome 103 nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) names Indian Point as the nation’s most problematic nuclear facility. 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 the rusted areas in the steel cladding of the reactor vessel containment did not pose health risks to local communities and the environment. .
Entergy Nuclear, the owner of Indian Point, said the rust was the result of leaks inside the building and there were no integrity issues with the containment structure. NRC was concerned that the rust could have created holes in the steel cladding and concrete that could leak radiation in the event of an operational emergency.
Pressure tests of the containment shells must be carried out every ten years at each of the country’s nuclear power plants. Loss of structural integrity of the containment vessel would result in pressure test failure. The fact that Entergy asked the NRC for a five-year postponement of the Indian Point pressure tests did not inspire much confidence in the facility. The NRC only considered granting the extension if Entergy could convince the inspectors that the rust did not pose a serious threat to the safe operation of the plant.
Indian Point’s track record is far from stellar. In fact, the corrosion issues are linked to a flood that happened 23 years ago, when 200,000 gallons of water flooded the building before leaking air conditioning pipes were discovered. During this flood, the water level rose nine feet around the reactor. Although the leak was repaired, the water damage issues were ignored, leading to the corrosion that plagues the facility to this day.
On February 15, 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. Soon after, Indian Point officials had to notify the NRC of 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.
Ongoing operational problems at Indian Point combined with obvious and long-standing terrorist threats have increased 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 strong enough to force the facility to close. For now, despite rusting walls and leaking pipes, this former Indian continues to generate electricity for consumers.
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