THOMAS C. ZAMBITO | ROCKLAND/WESTCHESTER JOURNAL NEWS |
© Copyright Gannett 2020
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the Indian Point nuclear power plant would remain safe even if a natural gas pipeline nearby ruptured, disappointing environmental groups pushing to shut down the pipeline.
Following a February inspector general’s report issued critical of the NRC, the commission agreed to revisit its 2014 finding that an expansion of the Algonquin Incremental Market Pipeline would not pose a safety risk to the Buchanan plant.
The NRC’s latest analysis, conducted by a team of experts inside and outside the agency, came to a similar conclusion, but criticized the NRC and Indian Point’s owner, Entergy, for their “optimistic assumptions” in assessing the potential for a gas line rupture.
“A rupture of the newly installed 42-inch natural gas transmission pipeline that runs near Indian Point is unlikely,” last week’s report found. “This pipeline was installed using modern techniques, stringent quality standards, and construction precautions that limit the likelihood of later pipeline damage.”
“I’m am not at all surprised that the NRC continues to ignore the safety risks generated by their own failures,” said Courtney Williams of Peekskill, who leads a group opposed to the expansion. “This is par for the course. They routinely ignore anything that does not maintain the status quo allowing plant owners to do as they please.”
She added: “It doesn’t take an engineer to know that having multiple, high-pressure gas pipelines criss-crossing the nuclear power plant is unsafe.”
The pipeline courses north from Pennsylvania and covers seven miles in Rockland County, before crossing the Hudson River into Westchester Countyjust south of Indian Point before heading into New England. It is operated by Enbridge Energy Partners.
In recent years, the project has become a flash point for natural gas opponents. In 2016, several clean energy advocates were arrested in Verplanck after locking themselves inside a section of pipeline being readied to cross under the Hudson River.
A protest of the Algonquin pipeline expansion project that was held in June in Peekskill. SUBMITTED/ERIK MCGREGOR
Rep. Nita Lowey said she was pleased the latest analysis found the pipeline not to be a threat to the communities around Indian Point, but voiced concerns with how the 2014 report was done.
“This report cannot be the end of the story,” Lowey said. “The NRC must implement the recommendations outlined in the report and, if necessary, take regulatory action to ensure that Entergy does the same. I am particularly concerned that federal agencies such as the NRC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission need to work much more closely on important safety and health issues regarding nuclear reactors and natural gas pipelines.”
The NRC will hold a public hearing on the matter after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Among the concerns highlighted by the inspector general’s report was that the NRC failed to confirm Entergy’s claim that if there was a rupture, pipeline operators would be able to shut down gas flow in three minutes.
“OIG contacted the pipeline operator who estimated it would take at least 6 minutes after detection of a leak to close the valves,” the inspector general wrote.
The latest report by the NRC said Entergy should re-do its own analysis, which the NRC relied on in its 2014 decision.
“Entergy should be asked to revisit the assumptions it made regarding the consequences of a postulated rupture of the 42-inch pipeline,” the report notes.
And it said the NRC will need to improve its own technical reviews and inspections.
Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said the plant’s safety systems are located a safe distance from the pipeline and are protected by “robust concrete structures.”
“Per the NRC’s request, Entergy will review the assumptions that were provided by the pipeline owner,” Nappi said. “We are confident that a review of all information will again conclude that the plant would be safely protected in the unlikely event of a pipeline failure.”
The plant will shut down in 2021. One of its two reactors, Unit 2, will power down on April 30.
Entergy has a deal pending to sell the plant to Holtec International after the shutdown. That deal is awaiting the approval of the NRC.
On Tuesday, the NRC will hold a webinar to discuss the details of how the plant will be decommissioned after the shutdown