One year ago on March 11, an earthquake and tsunami the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants in northeast Japan and caused a nuclear meltdown and release of radiation. The disaster displaced hundreds thousands and the immediate area surrounding Fukushima remains a ghost town today. As the world reflects on the catastrophic events and the people affected by them this month, we will be bring you updates about Entergy's nuclear power plant in Buchanan, New York and its opponents. Here is the first article in the series.
On the one year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear energy plant meltdown, people on both sides of the issue of nuclear energy and the in Buchanan are talking about the Japanese disaster and evaluating it based on their positions. And while Indian Point officials say it is highly unlikely to happen here, nuclear power opponents say they believe it can, and that Indian Point must be closed.
Over the last year opponents have been trying to stop what they consider a realistic risk of a potential disaster by fighting the license renewal of Indian Point. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo on a platform that stated he was against Indian Point, and a New York State Assembly Committee that IPEC could close with little impact to rates and reliability. Environmental groups and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have filed new contentions since the Fukushima disaster related to emergency preparedness. They are also preparing themselves with the research and experts needed to argue their contentions when the
Following the Japanese disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) created a Fukushima Task Force to study and evaluate what could be learned from the meltdown. In July, the task force issued a series of recommendations. The NRC has asked staff to prioritize those recommendations and figure out which should be acted on in the near term. The NRC has now voted on these and are ready to issue orders and request for information from all plants that address near term priority areas.
The focuses are on seismic risk, potential flooding hazards, emergency planning, spent fuel storage, and ability to monitor what is going on with spent fuel pools remotely.
“(The Japanese) were in a situation that was really a whole confluence of challenges that we are doing our best to make sure would never occur at a U.S. plant,” said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan. “We are looking at better ways to have backup sources of power on U.S. sites.”
“After 911 the NRC required all plants to put in place backup systems in case of large explosion or fires on site to deal with backup. These systems would allow them to pump water into spent fuel pools. We already have things that can help deal with something like Fukushima,” Sheehan said.
But groups like Riverkeeper do not feel that anything Indian Point does would help deal with a disaster, saying it is too old, too risky and too dangerous. Riverkeeper contends that Indian Point is not needed and that its closing will help the region move towards a safer, more sustainable energy future.
“Indian Point’s Days are numbered,” said Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper.
“You will hear nuclear power [supporters] dwell on Fukuhshima and say we can’t have a tsunami here, but prior to the tsunami hitting there were reports of raised levels of radioactivity,” said Gary Shaw, of the citizen activist group Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC), explaining that the earthquake compromised the Japanese power plant.
While opponents of nuclear power keep a close eye on IPEC and publicize their concerns, the plant’s owner, Entergy, says the plant is safe and that it follows NRC regulations and requirements and is continuously reevaluating its plant for safety.
“Following Fukushima, in addition to doing re-analysis on seismic issues and verifying that our operators are trained to handle events that are worse than have ever been experienced, the plant procured equipment,” said Indian Point spokesman Jerry Nappi. To help the plants in the case of a natural disaster, IPEC bought two additional diesel power pumps that can be used to cool fuel at either unit and installed eight diesel electrical generators in four locations at elevations well above the worse recorded flood levels in the area, Nappi said.
“If generators are made unavailable, absent any electricity at all we can keep the fuel cool with a steam driven pump,” Nappi said, adding that the Fukushima plant had nothing like this.
While no one is claiming that a tsunami is likely to overtake the Hudson River valley, Riverkeeper and others are deeply troubled by Indian Point’s location on that was not yet discovered at the time the plants were built.
The NRC has ordered all nuclear plants to perform updated flooding and seismic analysis for the NRC to review, which should take about five years, Sheehan said.
“We are designed to withstand an earthquake that is 100 times stronger than what has ever happened here,” said Nappi.
In March, Gov. Cuomo that the NRC agreed to make Indian Point a top priority in its seismic reviews of the nation's nuclear plants.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation denied Indian Point's request to renew its water quality certificate in 2010. The certificate expires when the licenses expire in 2013 and 2015.
The DEC denied Entergy’s request for renewal, stating that its “proposal to use cylindrical wedge-wire screens was not an appropriate equivalent to a closed-cycle cooling system (cooling towers), which would minimize adverse impacts to the fish population in the Hudson River,” according to a DEC spokesperson.
Riverkeeper accuses Indian Point of killing more than 1 billion fish and other river creatures every year because of radioactive leaks.
IPEC has been meeting with DEC Administrative Law judges for several months to discuss its positions on some of the issues that relate to the certificate, said Nappi.
“We have a better solution than cooling towers,” Nappi said. “The wedge wire screens will protect more fish and larvae” because it could be installed more quickly than the cooling towers, he said.
The cooling towers would be large, stadium size, expensive structures that Nappi says would take 20 years to build and would require Entergy to dynamite a mountain next to the plant. He said IPEC is not sure it could get the necessary air permits and blasting permission for such large-scale construction. A wedge wire system could be installed in the next five to six years, so a greater number of fish eggs and larvae would be protected much sooner than they would if IPEC had to build cooling towers, Nappi said.
The NRC license renewal process has nothing to do with state requirements like the DEC’s water quality certificate, so even if that issue is not resolved with the DEC the NRC may still renew IPEC’s licenses.
“That is a matter between the state and Entergy … It is not our area of jurisdiction,” Sheehan said.
Riverkeeper said if IPEC were to continue to operate without a current water quality certificate, they would be operating illegally and IPEC would be taken to court over the matter.
The NRC does not look at emergency planning actions when evaluating relicensing applications, because they look at those things on an on-going basis. Sheehan said that it is FEMA and local municipalities responsibilities to make sure there is an adequate
“If there were an event at the plant, the federal government does not come in and say here is how you do this. The state and counties have their own emergency plans for plants. They would be the ones making the decision, they know their communities, the best routes, best locations…they would be the ones making the call. They would have support from federal agencies,” Sheehan said.
The NRC is also not going to expand the evacuation zone beyond a 10-mile radius because:
“The population closest to the nuclear power plant that is within the 10-mile EPZ is at greatest risk of exposure to radiation and radioactive materials. When the population is evacuated from the area and potentially contaminated foodstuffs are removed from the market, the risk from further radioactive iodine exposure to the thyroid gland is essentially eliminated,” according to the NRC.
Some of the contentions raised by various anti-nuclear groups have stated that Indian Point poses a significant risk because in the case of an emergency there is no adequate evacuation plan that would protect all residents within the 10-mile radius.
This is one in a series of several articles about Indian Point published surrounding the March anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. Read more about Indian Point here.
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