Indian Point’s Last Outage Before the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

CORTLANDT, NY — Control room operators shut down Indian Point Energy Center’s Unit 2 nuclear power plant Monday morning to begin the 23rd and final scheduled refueling and maintenance outage for the generating unit, which has helped power New York City and the lower Hudson Valley since 1974.

Entergy is investing more than $75 million in the plant during the outage, officials said, reinforcing the company’s commitment to safe, secure and reliable operations through the unit’s permanent shutdown by April 30, 2020.

Unit 2 was online generating electricity more than 96 percent of the time since its prior refueling outage concluded in June 2016. Unit 3, which remains in service at full power, will conduct its final refueling outage next spring before shutting down permanently by April 30, 2021.

“We remain dedicated to operational excellence at Indian Point and are investing millions of dollars to ensure the facility’s continued safe, secure and reliable operation until permanently closing,” said Tony Vitale, site vice president and Entergy’s top official at Indian Point. “During the next several weeks, approximately 2,000 workers will perform equipment maintenance, comprehensive safety inspections and refuel the reactor so we can continue to meet our rigorous operational safety standards and provide clean, reliable power to millions of New Yorkers.”

About 1,000 additional skilled contract workers are supplementing the nearly 1,000 full-time Entergy facility employees during the outage to complete the refueling and other important maintenance projects, including:

  • comprehensive inspections of baffle bolts on a removable liner inside the reactor
  • reactor coolant pump seal replacement
  • fuel oil storage tank repair for one of the unit’s three emergency diesel generators
  • steam generator inspection
  • low-pressure turbine blade inspection

These inspections and improvements represent Entergy’s ongoing commitment to invest in Indian Point Energy Center and its employees to maintain a strong record of safety and reliability through the remaining years of operation, company officials said.

Since purchasing the facility more than 15 years ago, Entergy has invested more than $1.3 billion in safety and reliability improvements to ensure delivery of hundreds of millions of megawatt hours of emissions-free power to the region. Entergy also continues to invest in the local communities through philanthropic support, volunteerism and environmental stewardship. During the past few years, the company has donated millions of dollars in resources to create and sustain healthy, vibrant communities in the region, company officials said.

In January 2017, Entergy announced its plan for the shutdown of Indian Point Energy Center as part of a settlement with New York State. In exchange, New York State agreed to drop its legal challenges and support renewal of the operating licenses for the facility. Entergy continues to work closely with community groups and government officials to ensure the safe and orderly shutdown of Indian Point Energy Center.

New York Subways at the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6) vulnerable are NYC’s underwater subway tunnels to flooding?

Ashley Fetters

New York City is full of peculiar phenomena—rickety fire escapes; 100-year-old subway tunnels; air conditioners propped perilously into window frames—that can strike fear into the heart of even the toughest city denizen. But should they? Every month, writer Ashley Fetters will be exploring—and debunking—these New York-specific fears, letting you know what you should actually worry about, and what anxieties you can simply let slip away.

The 25-minute subway commute from Crown Heights to the Financial District on the 2/3 line is, in my experience, a surprisingly peaceful start to the workday—save for one 3,100-foot stretch between the Clark Street and Wall Street stations, where for three minutes I sit wondering what the probability is that I will soon die a torturous, claustrophobic drowning death right here in this subway car.

The Clark Street Tunnel, opened in 1916, is one of approximately a dozen tunnels that escort MTA passengers from one borough to the next underwater—and just about all of them, with the exception of the 1989 addition of the 63rd Street F train tunnel, were constructed between 1900 and 1936.

Each day, thousands of New Yorkers venture across the East River and back again through these tubes buried deep in the riverbed, some of which are nearing or even past their 100th birthdays. Are they wrong to ponder their own mortality while picturing one of these watery catacombs suddenly springing a leak?

Mostly yes, they are, says Michael Horodniceanu, the former president of MTA Capital Construction and current principal of Urban Advisory Group. First, it’s important to remember that the subway tunnel is built under the riverbed, not just in the river—so what immediately surrounds the tunnel isn’t water but some 25 feet of soil. “There’s a lot of dirt on top of it,” Horodniceanu says. “It’s well into the bed of the bottom of the channel.”

And second, as Angus Kress Gillespie, author of Crossing Under the Hudson: The Story of the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, points out, New York’s underwater subway tunnels are designed to withstand some leaking. And withstand it they do: Pumps placed below the floor of the tunnel, he says, are always running, always diverting water seepage into the sewers. (Horodniceanu says the amount of water these pumps divert into the sewer system each day numbers in the thousands of gallons.)

Additionally, MTA crews routinely repair the grouting and caulking, and often inject a substance into the walls that creates a waterproof membrane outside the tunnel—which keeps water out of the tunnel and relieves any water pressure acting on its walls. New tunnels, Horodniceanu points out, are even built with an outside waterproofing membrane that works like an umbrella: Water goes around it, it falls to the sides, and then it gets channeled into a pumping station and pumped out.

Of course, the classic New York nightmare scenario isn’t just a cute little trickle finding its way in. The anxiety daydream usually involves something sinister, or seismic. The good news, however, is that while an earthquake or explosion would indeed be bad for many reasons, it likely wouldn’t result in the frantic flooding horror scene that plays out in some commuters’ imaginations.

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The Montague Tube, which sustained severe damage during Hurricane Sandy.

MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann

Horodniceanu assures me that tunnels built more recently are “built to withstand a seismic event.” The older tunnels, however—like, um, the Clark Street Tunnel—“were not seismically retrofitted, let me put it that way,” Horodniceanu says. “But the way they were built is in such a way that I do not believe an earthquake would affect them.” They aren’t deep enough in the ground, anyway, he says, to be too intensely affected by a seismic event. (The MTA did not respond to a request for comment.)

One of the only real threats to tunnel infrastructure, Horodniceanu adds, is extreme weather. Hurricane Sandy, for example, caused flooding in the tunnels, which “created problems with the infrastructure.” He continues, “The tunnels have to be rebuilt as a result of saltwater corroding the infrastructure.”

Still, he points out, hurricanes don’t exactly happen with no warning. So while Hurricane Sandy did cause major trauma to the tunnels, train traffic could be stopped with ample time to keep passengers out of harm’s way. In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all the MTA’s mass transit services to shut down at 7 p.m. the night before Hurricane Sandy was expected to hit New York City.

And Gillespie, for his part, doubts even an explosion would result in sudden, dangerous flooding. A subway tunnel is not a closed system, he points out; it’s like a pipe that’s open at both ends. “The force of a blast would go forwards and backwards out the exit,” he says.

So the subway-train version of that terrifying Holland Tunnel flood scene in Sylvester Stallone’s Daylight is … unrealistic, right?

“Yeah,” Gillespie laughs. “Yeah. It is.”

Got a weird New York anxiety that you want explored? E-mail, and we may include it in a future column.

The Upcoming War with Iran, North Korea and Iran | The Strategist

Mohammad Ayood

Trump, North Korea and Iran

President Donald Trump has stunned allies and adversaries alike by accepting North Korean President Kim Jong-un’s invitation to meet with him in May to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The speed with which he made the decision—all of 45 minutes—and even without consulting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has since been fired, was typical of Trump’s unique decision-making style based on instinct rather than reason.

Trump’s decision to meet with the North Korean leader has broader implications in the arena of nuclear non-proliferation. The most important of these is the message this decision has sent to Iran. The irony that the same administration that’s considering imposing fresh sanctions on Iran and withdrawing from the JCPOA—the nuclear agreement that has almost indefinitely postponed Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons—is willing to talk directly with a nuclear-capable North Korea hasn’t been lost on the Iranians.

Trump’s divergent approaches towards North Korea and Iran are all the more surprising because where there have been differences between the two countries’ attitudes toward the United States, it’s North Korea that stands out as the more threatening of the two.

Iran has never fought a war with the United States. The closest the two countries have ever come to trading blows was during Iran’s war against Iraq. In that war, when Iraq was clearly the aggressor, it acted as a proxy both for the United States and for Saudi Arabia in their attempts to nip the Islamic Revolution in the bud.

North Korea, on the other hand, fought a very bloody war against the United States and its ally, South Korea, from 1950 to 1953 that led to at least 33,652 American battle fatalities. North Korea has constituted a real military threat, through both conventional and nuclear weapons, to America’s close allies, South Korea and Japan. In addition, North Korea has threatened the US homeland and, according to recent reports, is close to developing an ICBM capability that can reach as far as Washington, DC.

The Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, confirmed these reports at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In the same hearing, General Dunford categorically declared, ‘North Korea certainly poses the greatest threat [to the United States] today.’

Iran, on the other hand, has never posed a threat to the US homeland or threatened to incinerate American allies, such as Saudi Arabia next door, with nuclear weapons. Its threats against Israel are rhetorical rather than realistic given Israel’s conventional and nuclear capabilities that can inflict tremendous damage on Iran. In fact, it was Israel that constantly threatened Iran with attacks on its nuclear facilities in the run up to the JCPOA.

The principal lesson that Iran is likely to draw from America’s decision to negotiate with North Korea at the highest level, while threatening Iran both with withdrawal from the JCPOA and the imposition of new sanctions, is that it’s North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and delivery capabilities that have brought the American president to the negotiating table.

This is bound to give Iranian hardliners further ammunition to attack the Rouhani government for making the compromises it did in relation to Iran’s nuclear program to get economic sanctions lifted. Their criticism implies that had Iran developed nuclear weapons instead of signing away its right to do so, the American president would have gone running to Tehran to negotiate a nuclear deal more favourable to Iran than the JCPOA.

America’s rhetoric about re-imposing sanctions on Iran, as well as Trump’s repeated threats to withdraw from the JCPOA while agreeing to negotiate with North Korea at the highest level, has made Iranian moderates such as Hassan Rouhani and Javad Zarif look stupid in the eyes of an Iranian public still waiting for the economic benefits that were supposed to accrue to them in return for giving up Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Trump’s sacking of Tillerson, principally because Tillerson had opposed Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, and the appointment of Iran-hawk and blatantly Islamophobic Mike Pompeo in his stead, has sent a clear message to Iran that the United States is about to renege on its commitment to JCPOA.

Furthermore, there are reports that another anti-Iran hawk, John Bolton, is likely to be appointed National Security Adviser, replacing HR McMaster. This is likely to strengthen the Iranian sentiment that Iranian–American relations are once again destined to descend into unadulterated antagonism, as was the case before President Barack Obama came to power.

Given President Trump’s predilection for impulsive actions, some American commentators are even predicting another war in the Middle East, this time against Iran. The negative consequences of such a war both for the United States and for the region will be far worse than President George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

As a leading American analyst commented, ‘Bush went to war against Iraq, not Iran, because he knew that [Iran] was a much tougher nut to crack. If Trump becomes enmeshed in a new war in the Middle East [against Iran], his presidency will almost surely go down in history as a catastrophic failure.’

Mohammed Ayoob is Senior Fellow, Center for Global Policy, Washington DC, and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Michigan State University. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user Stephan Harmes.

How Saudi Arabia Will Become a Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Why does Saudi Arabia want to spend billions to enrich its own uranium?

Steven Mufson

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has reaffirmed the kingdom’s desire to keep up with Iran’s nuclear program, casting doubt on Saudi claims that it seeks to mine and enrich uranium solely for civilian use and reawakening fears of a Middle East nuclear arms race.

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Mohammed said that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

The comments on the eve of Mohammed’s visit to the United States are likely to complicate the Trump administration’s efforts to revise U.S. terms for a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, which is needed before U.S. firms can sell nuclear reactors, technology or materials to other nations. Saudi Arabia has said it intends to build two reactors near the Persian Gulf and is weighing five proposals, including one from a consortium led by Westinghouse and Fluor.

The cooperation accord is known as a 123 agreement under the Atomic Energy Act.

“With the comments made by Crown Prince Mohammed, it’s hard to imagine that the United States — or any other Non-Proliferation Treaty signatory — could engage in any nuclear trade or cooperation with Saudi Arabia, making the issue of the 123 agreement a moot point,” said Edwin Lyman, a nuclear nonproliferation and terrorism expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has confirmed what many have long suspected — nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia is about more than just electrical power, it’s about geopolitical power,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “The United States must not compromise on nonproliferation standards in any 123 agreement it concludes with Saudi Arabia.”

Opposition has also come from Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the Capitol earlier this month and said he was against a cooperation agreement that would allow the Saudis to enrich uranium. Israel is widely believed to possess a nuclear arsenal, but it refuses to confirm or deny any claims.

In recent months, other senior Saudi officials have made comments similar to Mohammed’s, asserting that Saudi Arabia cannot accept nuclear cooperation terms that would be worse than those given Iran under the accord forged by President Barack Obama and backed by international powers — which curbed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions.

Iran’s leaders have repeatedly asserted that they do not seek nuclear arms and claim Iran only seeks to use its uranium enrichment labs to produce lower-enriched material for use in reactors.

But the crown prince’s comments deepened fears among nonproliferation experts already concerned about Saudi Arabia’s insistence that any nuclear reactor deal include uranium enrichment and reprocessing of used fuel rods — each of which could be diverted to produce weapons-grade material.

One reason experts have worried is that there is no economic rationale behind acquiring such capabilities.

With the world awash in reactor-ready uranium, the radioactive fuel rods are a tiny portion of the cost of nuclear power, and spending billions of dollars on enrichment equipment would be wasteful, experts say.

Thanks to the uranium glut, the $21.75 price for a pound of uranium is languishing near all-time lows. Companies that have enrichment technology don’t want to share it and create a new competitor. And because the companies selling uranium span the globe and political divides, it is unlikely that the security of supply would be a problem for Saudi Arabia.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a private nonprofit group. “Building an indigenous uranium enrichment and reprocessing program for spent fuel is incredibly costly, in the tens of billions of dollars.” Citing the oversupply of uranium, he added “there is no economic rationale” for a Saudi program.

The Saudi government says it needs its own enriched uranium or reprocessed fuel to secure sources of supply for commercial electricity reactors.

Kimball dismissed that concern. “There is an ample nuclear fuel supply,” he said. “If Saudi Arabia is genuinely interested in generating electricity from nuclear reactors, they will have no problem buying nuclear fuel from any number of suppliers.”

Kimball said some suppliers, such as Russia, have made lifetime uranium supplies part of their nuclear construction and service contracts.

Ali Ahmad, director of a program on energy policy and security at the American University of Beirut, said that uranium prices have dropped at an average 14 percent annual rate since 2009.

The shutdown of all 54 reactors in Japan and eight in Germany immediately after the 2011 tsunami reduced demand for uranium. Although China is still building plants, and Japan reopened a number of reactors, Germany and the United States plan to close others.

Many of the world’s enrichment ventures have slashed output because of weak demand. In December, Kazatomprom, the Kazakh state uranium company, announced plans to reduce production by 20 percent over the next three years. The Canadian company Cameco said it would shut down its McArthur River plant for 10 months this year.

Meanwhile, the French nuclear company Areva shelved an enrichment plant planned for Idaho, which was expected to cost over $2 billion. Despite a loan guarantee from the Energy Department for part of the cost, Areva never broke ground because of the low price of nuclear fuel.

“My guess is that there won’t be an enrichment plant for a while,” said Matthew Bunn, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “It would cost billions, and no one is going to sell them the technology.” Besides, he added, uranium accounts for as little as 1 percent of a nuclear plant’s operating costs.

Saudi officials say that the mining of its own uranium is a sovereign right. It is working with China’s National Nuclear to begin exploration.

The viability of any mining venture will depend on the quality of uranium ore and its depth from the surface. Ahmad said that Jordan thought it had commercially viable uranium reserves, but the French company Areva explored and concluded that the quality wasn’t good enough.

“Saudi Arabia has large uranium deposits,” said Ali Shihabi, founder of the nonprofit Arabia Foundation. “Unlike other countries, it would like to commercialize its uranium deposits.”

Why South Korea is Already a Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

The Dirty Secret of American Nuclear Arms in Korea

March 19, 2018
Op-Ed Contributor

A TM-61C Matador being assembled at Osan Air Base, Pyeongtaek, South Korea, in 1958. Matadors could be armed with nuclear warheads.Associated Press

As President Trump prepares for a possible meeting with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, many American are raising warnings that North Korea has walked away from previous arms agreements. But those skeptics should remember that it was the United States, in 1958, that broke the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, when the Eisenhower administration sent the first atomic weapons into South Korea.

By the mid-1960s, the United States had more than 900 nuclear artillery shells, tactical bombs, surface-to-surface rockets and missiles, antiaircraft missiles and nuclear land mines in South Korea. Even nuclear projectiles for Davy Crockett recoilless rifles were for several years based in South Korea.