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Riverkeeper: Indian Point shutdown a sign of reactor's age

2:21 PM, Jan. 10, 2012  |  
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Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan. Indian Point 2 was shut down to repair one of four pumps that supply cooling water to the nuclear reactor. / Ricky Flores/The Journal News, File

BUCHANAN — A leading critic of the Indian Point nuclear power plants said today that a reactor shutdown early this morning was an indication of the facility’s age and its recurring problems.

“Indian Point has passed its expiration date,” Hudson Riverkeeper Paul Gallay told The Journal News. “A leaking seal here, a 100 exemptions from fire and safety regulations there. Sooner or later you’re going to have a real problem you can’t solve with PR.”

Gallay, among the environmentalists who have long pushed to close down Indian Point’s two reactors, spoke hours after a leak at a seal at one of the plants’ four water pumps prompted a shutdown for repairs. Gallay and other critics, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have called on federal regulators to deny an application by Entergy Corp., Indian Point’s owners, to extend its operating license.

Regulators said today’s early morning shutdown of one of Indian Point’s nuclear reactors, the first since May, did not pose any safety threats to the public and is not expected to affect the plant’s performance rating.

The shutdown of the IP2 reactor around 4:30 a.m. was ordered by control room operators to repair a leaky seal on one of the facility’s four massive water pumps - a leak that officials at Entergy Corp., the plants’ owners, had been monitoring for a week.

“I don’t know if we would describe it as routine when a plant has to shut down to fix a reactor coolant pump,” said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “But certainly there are procedures that deal with how to deal with this kind of situation, and they followed those procedures and now it’s really just a matter of going in there, carrying out the repairs and then trying to put the plant back in service.”

Sheehan said Entergy ordered the shutdown after the water leak reached five gallons per minute. Sheehan and company officials said all of the water, which is heated to 550 degrees and converted to steam to power the plant’s turbines, is entirely contained within the pumps.

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“They have four of these reactor coolant pumps and other safety systems as well,” Sheehan said. “So, there was never question about the safety of the plant being compromised. But it was certainly a situation that they had to address. They really had no choice but to do that.”

IP3, the plant’s other reactor, has been operating continually for 278 days, said Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi. Before this morning, IP2 had been running for 230 days, and was last shut down to make repairs to a transformer outside the containment dome.

Nappi said it was uncertain when the current repairs would be completed.

“The seal is designed to leak at a certain rate,” he said. “As it increased past that rate, it’s something that the operators keep an eye on. When it reached a certain level it triggered them to shut the plant down and inspect it to make repairs.”

The shutdown and subsequent repairs will not affect the plant’s federal performance rating, which stands as “green” - the highest safety rating. Sheehan, the NRC spokesman, said “power changes,” such as this morning’s, are part of the plant’s evaluation process. The rating could drop to “white” if a plant has six or more power changes over a 7,000-hour period of operation. At year’s end Indian Point was at 0.8 power changes over that time period, Sheehan said.

“So, nowhere close to seeing a change in their performance indicator as a result of this shutdown,” he said.

Gallay, the riverkeeper, said the group was still reviewing the shutdown and would comment further after doing so.

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