Indian Point - riverside

Indian Point

By Roger Witherspoon

            The unprecedented degradation of critical baffle bolts in the Indian Point 2 reactor has triggered an extensive investigation by federal officials seeking to learn why the problem was so severe, why systems designed to detect loose metal objects failed, and whether the plant has a specific flaw that could compromise its ageing management program.

The discovery in March during a routine fuel change that more than 27% of the stainless steel bolts needed to channel cooling water through active nuclear fuel rods were broken, distorted or “missing” has prompted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to demand answers from Entergy, which owns Indian Point 2&3 in Buchanan, NY. The NRC will first review Entergy’s Licensee Event Report, due within a week, on the degradation problem and regulators insist they will not allow the plant to resume operating until critical questions are answered.

“The analysis to be performed by Entergy regarding the bolts,” said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan “will need to demonstrate that the baffle-former plates would remain in place even if a certain number of bolts failed. And those criteria will include the safety margins. We will review Entergy’s analysis and plans before deciding if the company’s proposed course of action is acceptable. Part of those evaluations will include whether it intends to assess the baffle-former bolts in Indian Point 3 in the near-term or several years from now.”

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman


An escalating series of problems began with an enhanced inspection of the interior of the Indian Point 2 reactor during a scheduled refueling. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had insisted in a series of legal actions starting in 2007 that Entergy go beyond the visual inspection by a camera lowered into the radioactive coolant and utilize more intensive ultrasonic testing. That revealed that 227 of the 882 bolts, more than one in four, were damaged due to the intensive wear and tear in the interior. That is a failure rate never recorded in any reactor in the world. And loss of the bolts and the directed coolant could lead to a fuel meltdown.

An Expanding Problem

            But as Entergy began the slow process of removing each two-inch long, stainless steel bolt using robotic arms and cameras under 40 feet of water, there were additional developments impacting the NRC’s urgent need to find the reason for the massive failure:

  • At least four additional bolts that were not detected by the ultrasonic examination broke while work was being done on the identified, degraded bolts. Sheehan said “the ultrasonic testing is not considered to be 100% foolproof.” But its rate of inaccuracy is not known and there is no way to tell what other bolts or critical internal structures may be poised to break inside the reactor. Ultimately, Entergy found it necessary to replace an additional 50 baffle bolts, bringing the total to 277, meaning one in three critical bolts was thought to be fatally degraded.
  • Alarmed by conditions in Indian Point 2, New Jersey’s energy utility, PSEG Co. conducted an ultrasonic scan of its baffle bolts during an outage last month for their Salem 1 reactor. Both Salem 1&2 had previously passed the visual inspections via underwater camera and an ultrasonic scan was not scheduled before 2019. But the scan showed 18 baffle bolts were degraded out of 832, or 2.1%. It was the first time degraded baffle bolts had been found in Salem 1, though the percentage of worn-out bolts was in keeping with industry projections for ageing systems. It added pressure on Entergy to show a circumstance specific to Indian Point 2, and not a design flaw affecting both plants.
  • The issue of water jetting, stemming from what had been regarded as an isolated incident in 2014, has now been added to the potential problems facing Indian Point 2 which may need to be addressed in the ongoing ageing management program. In the North Anna nuclear reactor in Virginia, one of the baffles became slightly loose – though the bolts proved to be sound – and the pressurized coolant shot through the gap in an intense, cold water jet and damaged two 12-foot-long fuel rods. The water jet forced the rods to spin, and the zirconium cladding burst, sending 15 radioactive uranium fuel pellets careening throughout the reactor (  ). Actual core damage can be a precursor to a meltdown since the loose fuel cannot be controlled and roaming metal parts can block the cooling system for other fuel assemblies.
  • Increasing attention is being paid to a tube break in one of the Indian Point 2 steam generators which occurred in February, 2000. The rupture sent radioactive coolant surging into the normally “clean loop” that turns the electric generating turbine on the non-nuclear side of the plant. The accident forced the first regional nuclear “alert” and activation of the emergency operations center. The record shows that in the confusion, ConEd workers—then rated by the NRC as the worst in the nation – improperly shut down the reactor by inserting too much cold water in violation of rules designed to protect the reactor and critical systems from thermal shock. The official report of the incident shows the temperature differentials during the improper shutdown were not very large (  ) and it was thought there would be no long-term damage. But it marked a clear deviation and threat to the integrity of the baffle bolts. There are indications Entergy researchers have sought evidence that the thermal shock was greater than initially reported. If so, Indian Point 2 had the radioactive equivalent of an incipient cancer at the time it was sold to Entergy in 2000, and it may or may not be curable.
  • Pressure is mounting on the NRC to take over the investigation. The environmental group Friends of the Earth filed an emergency petition with the agency asking the Commissioners order an investigation by an agency Augmented Inspection Team which takes over investigations when the danger of a meltdown increases by a factor of 10. Further, the Commissioners are asked to issue a Confirmatory Action Letter prohibiting the plant from reopening until a root cause analysis shows it is safe to do so, and shutting Indian Point 3 for an intensive examination. Such letters are issued if the risk of a meltdown is increased by a factor of 100.

“This plant was built in an age when people worshipped nuclear power,” said David Freeman, former president of the New York Power Authority which built and operated Indian Point 3 until it was sold to Entergy in 2001. As head of the NYPA Freeman ordered Indian Point 3 shut for two years in the 1990s because of lax standards and frequent mishaps.

“ConEd even proposed building a nuclear reactor in downtown New York,” he added after the Friends of the Earth press conference. “They never dreamed it, in itself, is as dangerous as a bomb. But you can have a radioactive fire the likes of which you’ve never imagined.

“We’re asking the NRC to do their job and thoroughly examine every aspect of those plants.  Even if Entergy replaces all of the bolts at Indian Point 2, what is the basis for not thinking that something else is way out of whack? You just can’t take risks, and it defies common sense not to shut down Unit 3 and examine it.”

Controlling Nuclear Power

At the core of the dispute is the ability of Entergy to accurately monitor critical systems it cannot directly see or easily access in one of the world’s most forbidding industrial environments.

Normal air pressure is about 14 pounds per square inch (psi). The pressure in a typical home water tank is about 35 psi, which is more than enough to fight gravity and send water from the bottom to the top of the home. The water does not reach a boiling point, and one could conceivably stir the water by hand, if desired.

The heart of a nuclear reactor is the 12-foot-long fuel rod, consisting of about 360 uranium pellets encased in a zirconium sleeve.  At the North Anna plant, a pressurized water reactor like Indian Point, some 264 fuel rods are grouped into “assemblies”, each containing boron control rods to slow down or speed up the fission process. There are 157 of these assemblies strategically placed inside the huge reactor core, according to Dominion Power Co. spokesman Richard Zeurcher.

If the fission process is uncontrolled, the uranium pellets will heat up to the point where it becomes a molten slag and melts through the steel reactor. So control of the temperature around the assemblies, and the flow through the assemblies is critical to safely operating the system that is, essentially a controlled chemical fire.

core-cutaway-proper flow with baffles

Arnie Gundersen and full sized mockup of properly working reactor.

The operating temperature of a reactor is about 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pressure is maintained at about 2,250 psi in order to keep the 300,000 gallons of superheated water in a liquid state.  It is not a jumbo home water heater, and with that enormous pressure the water in the reactor core most resembles superheated, roiling concrete.

It is critical that there be a constant flow of water to avoid buildups of hot pockets around individual fuel rods. That is the function of the baffle former bolts, which hold a series of 13-foot baffles that line the core of the reactor and surround the fuel assemblies. A series of pumps, operating at even higher pressures, force some 300,000 gallons per minute of cooler water to flow down between the baffles and the wall of the reactor and come up through a series of openings and flow through the fuel assemblies to keep them in the optimal operating temperature.

The roiling, highly radioactive reactor water is pumped out of the reactor and into the steam generator, a massive heat exchanger featuring 3,260 U-shaped, thin steel tubes ( ), and then flows back to the reactor. To avoid thermal stress, the NRC operating regulations dictate that the temperature difference between the “hot leg” coming out of the reactor and the “cool leg” returning to the reactor can’t exceed 72 degrees F. And when cooling down the reactor, the temperature can’t drop more than 100 degrees per hour.

The reactor water provides the first part of a 3-step process of generating electricity. The second step involves a “clean loop” of water which is forced over the steam generator tubes containing the superhot reactor water, and quickly turns to steam. This blows out to an adjacent building and through fans turning the massive, 40-ton turbine which generates electricity. The steam then passes through a reverse heat exchanger featuring cool water from the Hudson River.  The steam condenses into hot water and is routed back to the steam generator to be reheated and repeat the process. The hot river water is dumped back into the Hudson, a process that kills more than a billion fish annually.

It is a system that is intricately designed, infinitely interwoven, and extremely efficient. There are sensors to monitor temperature changes in each fuel bundle; X-ray sensors to detect wear and tear on steam tubes; a Metal Impact Monitoring System to detect loose metal parts which can damage fuel rods or block a coolant stream from properly circulating; and a Reactor Coolant System Activity monitor to detect cracks in fuel rods.

In 2000 this efficient system went horribly wrong.

The Emergency

ConEd saved money by ignoring repairs. By Feb. 15,2000, there were more than 15,000 items on its “corrective action list” of major or minor items which had broken or malfunctioned and needed repair or replacement (  ) . The NRC”s Augmented Inspection Ream report (  ) of April 28, 2000 notes: “the number and duration of the equipment problems reflected weaknesses in engineering, corrective action processes, and operational support at the Station. The Licensee’s response to a number of equipment problems identified during the event reflected an acceptance of ‘working around’ rather than fixing the problem.”

Indeed, workers in one area had to walk around holding a broom in front of them to detect thin jets of steam leaking from high pressure pipes that were hard to see but could cut through a person like a laser. If the broom’s brush suddenly shredded the workers knew where a leak was. On Feb 15 one of the eroded  tubes within the steam generator burst, and the high pressure, hot,  radioactive coolant coursing through it exploded into the “clean loop” destined for the generating turbine. That triggered a regional emergency alert.

David Lochbaum - Senate testimony


According to the NRC report, Indian Point operators shut off the flow of water and steam to the turbine in an effort to isolate the break, and then had to find additional water to make up for the loss. Here, said David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, the operators turned to the 300,000 gallon storage tank sitting outside for emergency situations.  (That tank system has been associated with last month’s leaks from Indian Point into the water table flowing into the Hudson River (  ).

“You can’t heat up or cool down the system by more than 100 degrees per hour to control the expansion and contraction of the metal and to limit stress,” explained Lochbaum. “But during that event they cooled down faster than 100 degrees. It’s not like a cliff, where if you walk 101 feet you’re in thin air and falling to your death.

“But there are cumulative usage factors, and the more you violate the rules on heating up and shutting down the more damage you cause in the long term.”

Indian Point operators were apparently confused by bad readings from defective valves, which backed up some water in the system and provided inaccurate temperatures. As a result, plant operators were unable to inject and mix the proper amount of cool, outside water during the cooldown process.

“Just during normal operation,” said Lochbaum,” those bolts experience a lot of wear and tear. The Feb 2000 event got the NRC’s attention because they exceeded the cooldown rate and the wear and tear, in retrospect, may account for the reason the number of degraded bolts exceeds that found in any other plant.”

The NRC will also want to know why the metal detection system failed to detect the broken bolts floating around the core of Indian Point 2 or broken fuel rods at North Anna.

“How is it that fuel rods can degrade to the point where fuel pellets wander free in the reactor coolant yet the Reactor Coolant System Activity PI does not detect it?” asked Lochbaum. “Must the pellets leak out of the coolant system, walk up to the control room and knock on its door to get noticed?

“The detection system at North Anna worked like the Metal Impact Monitoring System at Indian Point, which was installed to detect loose metal parts banging around the reactor coolant system. But it does not detect metal parts from broken baffle bolts.”

Arnie Gundersen -- Nuclear Engineer


And that, said Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and consultant to Friends of the Earth is why Indian Point 2 should remain shut until there has been a thorough understanding of all the factors involved in the baffle-bolt decay.

“Failure of more than a quarter of the bolts means the baffle was severely weakened and in jeopardy of failing,” Gundersen said in an interview. “It means a nuclear nightmare was just narrowly avoided since cooling water could have bypassed the atomic reactor core and led to a meltdown.

“Replacing the damaged baffle bolts prior to concluding a root cause analysis endangers the health of millions of people living nearby. Both plants should be shut down until it is understood if they both share a design flaw or if there is a problem peculiar to Indian Point 2.”

The Aftermath

Entergy is expected to deliver this week its Licensee Event Report delineating what it found, the probable causes and the steps the company is taking to correct the situation at Indian Point 2, said company spokeswoman Patricia Kakridas. But the company is under pressure to restart the plant in time for the summer, when electricity usage and wholesale prices are highest. Entergy bought the twin reactors when the state inaugurated deregulation and ConEd was forced to sell its various generating plants and become a transmission company carrying all of the electricity used in NYC and neighboring Westchester County.

As part of the sale, ConEd bought all of the output from Indian Point 2 for 7 years. NYPA had the same arrangement with Entergy for the output from Indian Point 3. But as the state’s grid manager, the Independent System Operator, added thousands of miles of new and upgraded transmission lines, it became easier to buy  and sell electricity at competitive prices from vendors around the state. So both ConEd and NYPA – which provides electricity for municipal governments, the subways and airports, street lights, public schools and public housing – began reducing the amount of electricity they contracted from Indian Point. ConEd buys electricity from various vendors to provide electricity to some 3.5 million residential and 250,000 business customers.

In 2013 NYPA stopped buying any electricity from Indian Point and ConEd’s current contract is for just 560 of the twin reactors’ combined output of about 2,060 megawatts.  That’s only about 5% of the average summer daily peak usage of 13,000 megawatts consumed by the 9 million residents and businesses in the New York City and Westchester County.

According to Julien Dumoulin-Smith, energy analyst with UBS, Entergy contracted to sell most of the remaining 1,500 megawatts of Indian Point’s output in the Mid-Hudson capacity zone which includes Orange, Ulster, and Duchess Counties.

At the start of deregulation Entergy Nuclear Northeast had five profitable nuclear plants. But nuclear power has difficulty competing in a free market with low-cost natural gas, wind, and solar. Now, Entergy has closed Vermont Yankee and is scheduled to close two more money-losing “zombie plants” – Pilgrim in Massachusetts and James FitzPatrick plant in Scriba, NY. Indian Point is its only remaining money maker. It is critical to the company’s viability to restart the plant in time to meet those contractual, money-making, summer obligations.

But that will be difficult .

Posted by: roger6t6 | April 16, 2016

23 Years of Radioactive Rainfall at Indian Point


By Roger Witherspoon

For the past 23 years, Entergy engineers have tried unsuccessfully to ignore, live with, and then stop a radioactive rain from the Indian Point 2 reactor cavity from falling onto workers inside the massive containment building.

And after decades of ignoring the problem and having workers wear raincoats and rain hats to prevent radioactive contamination from the indoor precipitation, Entergy pledged in 2010 to try different methods in each of the next three refueling outages to see if they could stop the flow of water through the massive concrete and steel tub surrounding the reactor. That six-year plan was deemed acceptable by the NRC.

But Entergy’s efforts during the first two refueling outages failed. The plant is currently in the midst of the third refueling outage and NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said in an email exchange that the company has been unable to find or halt the leaks.

“Entergy is still working on a solution to the problem of leakage from the Unit 2 refueling cavity,” Sheehan wrote. “Thus far, the leakage has not yet been halted. But it’s important to note that leakage is captured in the containment building sump and then processed in the plant’s radioactive water cleanup system.

“We had a metallurgical specialist at the site this week to observe Unit 2 refueling activities. As part of his inspection, he reviewed the work on the refueling cavity. The results of that review will be documented in an upcoming inspection report.”

The steady drip of about 10 gallons per minute comes through the specially designed, concrete, waterproof cavity which surrounds the reactor and is filled with water in order for refueling to take place. Exposure to the reactor core would kill anyone in the area, so the cavity extends more than 30 feet above the reactor itself. When filled, the reactor head can be removed remotely and the 12-foot long fuel rods lifted out and transported on an underwater train through a flooded canal to the spent fuel pool in an adjacent building. ( )

According to Entergy’s July, 2001 Final Safety Analysis Report ( FSAR ) for Indian Point 2, which was submitted to the NRC and is a matter of public record, “The floor and walls of the canal are concrete, with wall and shielding water providing the equivalent of 6-ft of concrete.

“The refueling canal floor is 5-ft thick. The concrete walls and floor are lined with 0.25-in. thick stainless steel plate. The linings provide a leakproof membrane that is resistant to abrasion and damage during fuel handling operation” (  ).

But the FSAR, which was accepted by the NRC and the resident inspectors at Indian Point 2, came eight years after the 1993 discovery that reactor coolant was flowing unchecked through undetected leaks in the concrete and falling on workers in the rooms below at rates up to 10 gallons per minute. That was when Entergy first entered the leak into its “corrective action program” as an issue to be thoroughly examined and corrected.  The coolant is radioactive, containing both tritium and a basket of isotopes from the 100 tons of irradiated fuel rods taken from the reactor.

At this decades-long leak rate, more than 4.6 million gallons of radioactive rain has fallen through the reactor cavity and transfer canal onto the work area below.

Indian Point

The reactor coolant also has high concentrations of boron, which is used to absorb neutrons and stifle the fission process. If borated water is not contained, the water will eventually evaporate and can leave a crystallized pile of boric acid in its wake. This is capable of corroding and eating through the carbon steel supports around the reactor, as well as the stainless steel lining of the reactor cavity and fuel transfer canal. It was boric acid, long ignored by FirstEnergy, which resulted in a football-sized cavity developing in the head of the reactor at the Davis Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio. To what extent accumulating boric acid may affect the integrity of various carbon steel supports in the reactor building is unknown.

David Lochbaum - Senate testimony

David Lochbaum

David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, pointed out the similarities between this ongoing leak and the lack of oversight at Davis Besse in a July, 2010 letter to William Borchardt, then the NRC’s Executive Director for Operations. At the time, Entergy was planning another refueling outage at Indian Point 2 though there had been no change in the leak and no assessment of its impact of steel structures.

Lochbaum noted in that letter, “it would be replicating the inadequate licensee management and ineffective regulatory oversight factoring into the Davis Besse near-miss to conduct another refueling outage at IP-2 the way outages have been conducted since 1993…

“According to the NRC’s inspection report, refueling cavity leak rates of between 2 and 10 gallons per minute have been repeatedly entered in the corrective action program dating back to 1993. Despite these numerous corrective action program entries, the licensee has not yet evaluated the impact of reactor refueling cavity water leakage on the dissimilar metal welds between the stainless steel liner and the carbon steel studs, nor has the licensee evaluated the effects of the leakage with regard to liner attachment welds and carbon steel hardware.”

No Big Deal

In reply (  ),  Borchardt wrote in July 2010 that “Indian Point Unit 2 refueling cavity leakage occurs for about two weeks every two years during refueling activities, then the refueling cavity is drained and the leak stops…In addition, the refueling cavity liner serves no function when the plant is operating at power.”

In Borchardt’s view, the unplanned and uncontrolled leaks were an inappropriate annoyance during refueling, but not a threat to the integrity of the reactor or any safety systems.

“From our reviews,” he wrote “we determined that Entergy’s plans related to repairing the leak and monitoring plant components for age-related degradation are acceptable. As part of the license renewal process, the NRC’s independent advisory body, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, considered this leakage condition in its review of the staff’s safety evaluation report and agreed that the condition is not one which would preclude granting a renewed license for Indian Point Unit 2.”

That assertion by Borchardt came nine years after Entergy’s 2001 evaluation report claiming the reactor cavity and canal were “leakproof,” and in the midst of an ongoing challenge by the New York Attorney General’s office to relicensing the plants partly on the grounds that its long-term ageing management plans were not reliable.

Entergy has been seeking 20 year extensions on the licenses of the twin reactors, which are now more than 40 years old, since 2007. The license for Indian Point 2 expired in 2013, and the license for Indian Point 3 expired last year. They are currently allowed to operate by the NRC until the licensing process is complete. The NRC is actively seeking to relicense all of the nation’s 100 reactors, and has so far granted extensions to about 75. The license review process for all other reactors has taken an average of two years.

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman - 3

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

 The extensions for both Indian Point plants, however, are being challenged by the environmental groups Riverkeeper and Clearwater, and the State of New York on several grounds, including contentions that the ageing management process for the plants’ critical components is flawed and unreliable.  Last month, for example, Entergy relented after more than five years of legal wrangling and agreed to inspect the lining of the reactor – something that is not required by NRC regulations but has been pushed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. That inspection found that more than 27% of the bolts used to hold the lining of the reactor and channel coolant through the fuel rods had degraded in the hot, radioactive environment and were broken or missing (  ). Entergy declined to discuss this issue.

The indoor leaks at Indian Point stem from a grave miscalculation made when the nation’s nuclear plants were designed in the 50s and 60s. It was assumed, explained Lochbaum, that pipes and concrete conduits wouldn’t break down over time and that concrete, though porous, was certainly unlikely to leak in the two weeks to a month needed for refueling and reactor maintenance.

“Many plants have had a problem like this,” Lochbaum said. “In the mid-80s at 9 Mile Point reactor in upstate, New York, they were leaking so much water that they ran out of tanks to store it in. So they decided to use the basement of the containment building and just poured the water in.

“But they forgot that there were 55-gallon drums filled with radioactive trash stored down there, and these fell over and dumped their contents all over. The NRC didn’t find out about it until a story came out a year later – the resident inspectors never looked down there.”


Inspectors did not check to see if Entergy was fixing the leak at Indian Point 2, either. The company annually entered the leaks into its corrective action file, and then did nothing.

The NRC didn’t get involved again with the radioactive rainfall until 2008. “At Indian Point,” Lochbaum stated, “you have a seismic issue. The only reason that there is a stainless steel liner in the reactor well is to guard against leakage in case of an earthquake.” There are two seismic fault lines under the 239-acre Indian Point campus.

“In 08,” he continued, “one of the NRC inspectors found workers wearing raincoats in the containment building. When he asked why they were wearing them indoors they said it was because the liner was leaking so badly that it was raining in the room below it and they didn’t want to be contaminated by the radioactive rain.”

But pinpointing small leaks is difficult.  The reactor, transport canal and spent fuel pool have liquids added and removed for a variety of reasons, including normal evaporation, filtration, and various siphons to test the composition of the water for radioactive particulates. Finding particulates would indicate that a fuel rod or group of rods had cracked and pieces of irradiated fuel were swirling in the water.

“We are so focused on finding and fixing the big leaks and big accidents,” lamented Lochbaum, “that when there are slow drips over a long period of time we don’t react very well. The leak in 1993 was annoying, and the next time there was an outage it was still annoying – but they felt they didn’t need to fix it. They just lived with it.”

That kind of corporate conduct was termed “normalization of deviance” by Columbia University psychologist Diane Vaughan in her book “The Challenger Launch Decision.” She has defined it as a situation where “people within the organization become so much accustomed to a deviant behavior that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for the elementary safety.”

She applied that description to the Space Shuttle Challenger, which had a flaw in the booster motors which was ignored since it hadn’t affected a dozen flights. On the 13th flight, the Challenger blew up, killing the crew.

While the leaks at Indian Point 2 occur only during refueling outages, the canal and the ability to flood the reactor cavity so the reactor and its fuel can be thoroughly inspected is part of the safety system for the reactor in the wake of an earthquake. Workers would have to count on the integrity of the reactor cavity and the canal to safely remove the dangerous,  irradiated fuel.

But, asked Lochbaum, if the reactor cavity liner is cracked and leaking before an earthquake, in violation of existing license requirements, “it is virtually impossible for this safety-related function to be satisfied after a seismic event. It seems more likely that the forces applied during the seismic event could significantly increase the pre-existing leak rate.”

Furthermore, he said,  if it has been leaking unchecked for decades, there is no way to know for certain if it will continue that way, or if it will reach its stress limit and suddenly break while the reactor is open and the fuel exposed.

“Indian Point 2 has been flying blind during refueling outages conducted since 1993,” said Lochbaum.


Posted by: roger6t6 | March 31, 2016

Critical Nuclear Reactor Bolts Fail at Indian Point 2


By Roger Witherspoon

            A special inspection of the Indian Point 2 nuclear reactor found that more than a quarter of the stainless steel bolts needed to channel cooling water through active nuclear fuel rods were broken, distorted or “missing”, a finding that calls into question the effectiveness of the long term management of this and other ageing power plants.

The inspection, which began March 7, concerned the 832 “baffle-former assembly bolts” which hold special metal plates around the 100-tons of uranium fuel within the reactor and channel cooling water to the bottom of the reactor and then up through center of the bundled 12-foot fuel rods to keep them from overheating. Entergy, which owns the twin Indian Point plants, stated in a March 29 report to the three judge panel of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ( ) that 227 of the baffle-former bolts were degraded, broken, or “missing.” That is an extraordinarily high failure rate of 27.2%.

Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor Schematic

In its public statement, Entergy sought to minimize the problem by stating they inspected some 2000 bolts and 11% of these were degraded. But their legal filing was more specific. It was only the 832 bolts holding the baffles that had the greatest exposure and suffered the most damage. All 227 of the deteriorated bolts were in this category. Entergy spokesmen at Indian Point and at their corporate office declined to discuss the issue.

The fact that entire bolts or parts of them could not be initially located is considered a serious safety threat. That was the cause of the partial meltdown of the Fermi power reactor outside Detroit in August, 1966 ( ) . In that case, bits of metal blocked the flow of coolant through two bundles of active fuel rods, and they overheated and melted.

Because of that risk Entergy, after discussions with officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is considering whether or not to shut Indian Point 3 and conduct a similar inspection now, rather than wait until a scheduled refueling outage in 2017. That would be a difficult fiscal pill for Entergy to swallow. The twin plants currently provide only 5% of the electricity used in New York City and neighboring Westchester County, primarily through its 560 megawatt contract with ConEd, the regional transmission company. The New York Power Authority, which provides power to the subways, airports, and municipal buildings, dropped Indian Point two years ago because there are cheaper alternatives ( ).

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said “Entergy will have to assess the implications for Indian Point Unit 3. There is no ETA at this point.”


For its part, the NRC is weighing whether or not other plants should be required to conduct similar special inspections of their reactor linings and, if so, how soon. It is not clear at this point how many other plants might have the same type of condition. But, said Sheehan, “we always look for possible generic implications and will do so in this case.”

David Lochbaum, nuclear safety specialist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said “the NRC is struggling with the question ‘Do we shut down Indian Point 3 and see if there is a problem, or do we look further?’ If it were just those two reactors it would be an easier decision.

“But if they shut down Unit 3 based on probable cause, then why not shut down the other plants that may have this issue? This problem has surfaced before at D. C Cook in Michigan and R.E. Ginna in upstate New York. Why assume those are the only ones?”

Critics of Indian Point urged the NRC to force Entergy to inspect both reactors. “Since IP3 is virtually identical in design as IP2,” said Gary Shaw of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, “IP3 should be shut down immediately to examine the integrity of the reactor core liner.  Aging management is a predicate of relicensing and the last year of problems and near misses has already shown that the plant should not be relicensed and decommissioning should be initiated as soon as possible.”

Forced by NY Attorney General


NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman - 3

Eric Schneiderman

The special inspection that discovered the disintegration of the bolts was undertaken by Entergy to put an end to a series of challenges by the Environmental Unit of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office dating to November, 2007. The Environmental Unit has filed more than 35 “contentions,” or legal challenges before the three-judge Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, the judicial arm of the NRC. Their decisions can be appealed to the full NRC board, whose commissioners can uphold, modify, or reverse their conclusions.

Three of the New York challenges involve “embrittlement” of key components within the reactor, including the bolts holding the baffles. These serve a critical function in a pressurized system where temperatures approach 900 degrees Fahrenheit and it is difficult to even out the temperature fluctuations within the huge reactor core. Each of the fuel bundles has a temperature gauge at the end called a thermocouple, so the reactor operators can track the temperature o variations within the reactor.  The danger of a breakdown of the zirconium cladding around the uranium fuel does not begin until the temperatures hit around 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, so there is a lot of room for variation before temperatures hit a dangerous level.

At Fermi, operators saw the temperatures climb inside two of the fuel bundles, but assumed they were getting readings from faulty thermocouples since the other bundles were fine. But a metal plate which had fallen to the bottom of the reactor because of degraded bolts was blocking the flow of coolant through the inside of the two fuel bundles, and these heated up past the melting point.

The Environmental Unit asserted that Entergy’s ageing management program was inadequate and did not take into account the embrittlement of metal as a result of years of intense bombardment by high levels of radiation within the reactor.

In fact, the State’s attorneys found six cases – including Fermi, Cook, and plants in France that were younger than Indian Point – where metal pieces had become brittle, broken off, and blocked critical valves, control rods, or cooling water flow within the reactor. Despite those experiences, inspection of the baffle-former bolts is not required by the NRC and was not originally part of Entergy’s long-term maintenance plan, according to their court filings.

“Entergy voluntarily agreed to have this inspection,” said Lochbaum. “Without the State of New York, that would not have happened. When you look at the reasons that the State wanted them to do the inspections, it is not a surprise that when Entergy did the inspection they found the problem that the State was warning about.

“It had happened many, many times before. Since our reactors are older than the French reactors where this problem showed up, it seemed just a matter of time before it happened here.”

Attorney General Schneiderman said in a statement yesterday that “For years, my office has raised serious concerns about the aging of components of the Indian Point nuclear plants, including “baffle-former assembly” bolts…Our concerns have been repeatedly dismissed by Entergy and the NRC.

“After finally conducting inspections that my office had long called for, Entergy revealed that at Indian Point Unit 2, over one-quarter of these bolts were found either missing or degraded to a point they must be replaced.  This significant finding – coupled with the spate of other recent problems revealed at Indian Point – underscores real and present safety issues related to continuing to operate this aging nuclear facility in close proximity to more than 17 million people.”

A Radioactive Underwater Problem


Inside PWR Reactor at Watts Bar

Installing a New Reactor at Watts Bar


It will take Entergy several weeks to fix this reactor problem. Because of the extremely high levels of radiation, the cavity holding the reactor – which is approximately 14 feet in diameter and 45 feet long – is flooded with at least 20 feet of water above the top.  The cavity is connected to a canal which connects with the spent fuel pool in an adjacent building. When the canal is flooded, the fuel is removed and taken, underwater, to the spent fuel pool for storage until work is completed.

The interior of the reactor, however, is extremely radioactive and too dangerous for workers. “At the Ginna plant,” said Lochbaum, “workers could only replace five to six bolts a day. That’s because they were working so far underwater, and the work wasn’t done by divers.

“They had to have special equipment where screw drivers were attached to 40-foot long robotic arms and directed from a console connected to a camera. It takes a while to position the equipment that is used to do those tasks, and Entergy doesn’t have those kinds of tools onsite.

“The equipment won’t arrive until April 20, and these long-reach tools are challenging to use, especially with cameras and underwater lighting.  They will be lucky if they can replace 10 bolts a day and they have to find all of the missing parts of bolts before they replace anything.  And since we are dealing with decay, decisions will have to be made if some of the other bolts should be replaced now, or if they should schedule another inspection in the near future. Entergy is going to take an economic hit on this.”

It is a hit the company can ill afford. Entergy closed its Vermont Yankee plant last year, and announced its Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts would close in 2019. This year, Entergy announced it will close its James A. Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Station in Scriba, NY, in 2017. The plants were all victims of the free market – their electricity is too expensive to compete with the growing amount of wind-powered electricity, the reduced demand due to the explosive growth of solar units, and the low cost of natural gas.  Indeed, Fitzpatrick is considered a zombie plant – financially dead but still operating. At times, Entergy has had to pay the grid to take Fitzpatrick’s electricity since it lost out in the competitive auctions run by the NY Independent System Operator, which operates the grid.

The increased competition and decreased demand has also hurt the profit margins of Indian Point, which is Entergy’s only remaining successful nuclear plant in the northeast.  And Wall Street has rated Entergy’s corporate debt as just above junk bond status.

That is a severe comedown. When Entergy bought Indian Point in 2001 it was rated the worst run plant in the nation by the NRC, which considered shutting it ( ). Entergy pumped some $500 million in repairs and new equipment into the plant and, within two years, it was rated one of the best run plants in the nation. With that designation, oversight by the NRC was minimal.

But last month the NRC downgraded Indian Point 3 from a “green” rating, which is the top of the color-coded, four-part scale, to the second tier “white” rating. This was primarily due to the excessive number of unplanned shutdown due to equipment failures and other issues. The downgrade brought an increase in oversight by the NRC, which Entergy has to pay for.

The NRC has not made a decision as to whether or not the status of Indian Point 2 will change because of the discovery of the deteriorated reactor bolts.


Byron Nuclear Powwer Plant

Byron Nuclear Power Plant

By Roger Witherspoon


After four years of increasingly tense internal discussion, seven Nuclear Regulatory Commission engineers have formally petitioned the governing Commissioners to either order the nation’s nuclear power plants to immediately correct a design flaw governing their reactor cooling systems or order them all to shut down.

The flaw is in the original design of the electrical system, and has escaped notice for decades. According to the engineers’ petition, as well as a series of staff analyses on file at the NRC, the design flaw occurs in what is called a “single phase” condition in which little or no electricity is entering the plant to operate its backup cooling systems in the event of a blackout or other event cutting off power from the grid. The result is that the motors of backup generators are underpowered and this can cause their motors to burn out. When that happens, there is no way to keep the reactor core cool.

The seven members of the Electrical Engineering Branch in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, led by Acting Chief Roy K. Mathew, stated in the petition that “the staff determined that all nuclear facilities are susceptible to this design vulnerability except one plant, and recommended that the NRC take prompt regulatory action.”

As a result, the petition states, if the plants are not ordered to immediately redesign their electrical systems then the Commissioners should “issue Orders to immediately shutdown the operating nuclear power plants since the licensees are operating their facilities without addressing the significant design deficiency…and with inoperable electric power systems….”

The situation evolved from an unplanned shutdown in January 30, 2012 in Unit 2 of the Byron Station Nuclear Power Plant in Illinois. At the time, it was thought that the shutdowns resulted from a string of unfortunate coincidences. But further examination by the NRC’s electrical engineering branch found something more alarming.

Byron Switchyard-NRC Photo

Byron Nuclear Power Plant

Alternating current comes out in three currents, or phases, which are positive, negative, and neutral. At the high voltage levels coming directly from the power plant, the currents are on separate lines, labeled A, B, and C.  David Lochbaum, nuclear safety expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained that “the output from A and B are constantly monitored to make sure they are together, or in phase.

“There are circuit breakers and sensors within the system noting if there is a fault and the two are not in phase. When that happens, a circuit breaker opens to block that line and reroute the electricity. The grid operates on the same principal, with circuit breakers isolating lines when there are interruptions so the entire Northeast doesn’t have a blackout.

“Within the plant there are electrical breakers signaled to open to isolate the problem and others will close for the systems around it. At Byron that didn’t happen. And they didn’t monitor the phase that failed.”

At Byron, however, the single phase, Line C, was not monitored and, in fact, had broken and fallen to the ground between the plant’s main transformer and the nearby power substation. Unfortunately, the staff analysis stated, the line on the ground “did not result in a detectable ground fault” since single phases were not monitored. Because of this power shortage, none of the plant’s four reactor coolant pumps were operable.

Officials from Exelon, which owns and operates Byron and 10 other nuclear power plants, as well as inspectors from the NRC initially thought that the shutdown was the result of a series of unfortunate coincidences. But On Feb. 28, 2012, there was a similar interrupted and undetected phase which caused a shutdown at Byron’s Unit 1. And, as in the earlier event, it disabled the plant’s cooling systems. That caused Mathews and the  electric unit he led to investigate further and see if there had been any other shutdowns in which an undetected phase disruption disabled the cooling pumps.  Their initial look found identical shutdowns at the Beaver Valley Power Station Unit 1 in Pennsylvania in November, 2007; and in New York, the James Fitzpatrick and the neighboring Nine Mile plants, which share a power substation, shut down in December, 2005.

The staff analysis concluded that the design of the electrical systems was “inadequate because it did not consider the possibility of the loss of a single phase… This situation resulted in neither the onsite nor the offsite electric power system being able to perform its intended safety functions” to provide electric power to the plant’s safety systems. Plants are required to have two separate sets of electrical power lines and monitors for  their core cooling systems so that operators can still control the reactor even if one line, or train, is damaged by fire or another event.

The loss of a single phase of alternating current, the NRC staff found, “can potentially damage both trains of the emergency core cooling system.” In that case, there is nothing to prevent a meltdown.

David Lochbaum - Senate testimony

David Lochbaum

In a practical sense, said Lochbaum, who assisted the NRC in updating their operator training manuals, the situation facing Byron resembled a brownout, in which only a small amount of electricity is getting through to the equipment.  “The problem at Byron was that all the electrical equipment could not get enough electricity to operate effectively.

“The larger motors on the cooling pumps need a lot of current. If they aren’t getting the flow they need they can sit there and try to run, and basically their motors will burn up.”

In July 2012, the Mathews group sent out an urgent notice to all plant operators requesting that they check their electrical systems to see if they were capable of detecting problems in a single phase. They were ordered to complete their findings within 90 days.

The responses from all but one of the nation’s 100 nuclear plant operators were similar to the October 25, 2012 response from New York’s twin Indian Point nuclear power plants: “The relay systems were not specifically designed to detect an open single phase of a three phase system. Detection of a single-open phase condition is beyond the approved design and licensing basis of the plant.”

The lone outlier, which was not identified, had modified the plant’s electrical system for other reasons. But in the process, their system was immune from the defect present in all the other nuclear power plants.

Not only does this situation affect the 99 operating reactors, it also applies to the four AP1000 plants under construction at the Vogtle Plant in Georgia and the Sumner plant in South Carolina. That is because these plants are a new design, and while their safety systems appeared sound on paper and in simulations, they do not work as planned when actually built and require design modifications to meet actual operational needs. As a result, a Feb. 26, 2013 staff analysis found that the electrical systems are incomplete and are still being designed.

Vogtle 3 and 4 Construction Site 2 - Courtesy Georgia Power

Byron Nuclear Power Plant

“In addition,” the staff assessment concluded, “the generic AP1000 plant operating procedures are under development and the licensees’ review of the generic procedures did not identify specific operator actions related to phase voltage verifications of the three phases.”

As a result, the electrical group concluded, all of the nation’s nuclear plants are violating the terms of their operating licenses and must either be brought into compliance or shut down.

According to NRC statutes, this is a major issue.

NRC regulations governing the operating licenses dictate that “the safety systems shall be designed so that, once initiated automatically or manually, the intended sequence of protective actions of the execute features shall continue until completion.”

The group’s petition states “any failures in an offsite power system or onsite power system must not disable the safety functions of emergency core cooling and vital safety systems to protect the health and safety of the public.”

With the current system, they assert, the plants are violating a mandatory condition of their operating licenses ( ).   As the issue was debated within the agency, the Mathews group cast a wider net and began looking at the root causes of shutdowns in the US and abroad, while pushing the agency to more forcefully addresses the design problem. To their surprise, they found 13 “open phase events” over a 14-year period, with the latest taking place at the Oconee Nuclear Power Station in South Carolina in December, 2015.

Further, the analysis of the twin events at the Byron plants produced a calculation that the risk of a full or partial meltdown had been 1 in 1,000. By comparison, the NRC’s preferred safety margin is 1 in about 8 million. The risk at Byron was so high that initially the agency considered changing the operating rating of Byron from green, the color associated with the most efficient, well run plants, to red, which is one step away from being shut down. A decision was made by NRC management, however, that it would be unfair to penalize Byron for a systemic problem that applied to the entire American nuclear fleet.

In February, 2013, the NRC sent a notice to all American nuclear plant operators summarizing the findings of the electrical group and solicited industry input while new regulations were being drafted. By July, 2015, the Mathews group submitted a draft order, only to have it rejected by the NRC’s legal department as a violation of the “backfit rule.” That is a controversial measure adopted around 2000 which precludes new regulations which require power plant operators to make costly fixes to existing systems unless it is needed for a major safety reason.

The electrical group submitted a second draft and it, too, was rejected as a violation of the backfit rule. Rather than revise the rule a third time, the group chose to bypass the legal department and file a 2.206 petition, a specific process allowing citizens and civic groups to push for a rule making decision. The filing was unusual in that the group chose to file as civilians, rather than attempt other in-house means of getting the agency to order the industry to upgrade the suspect electrical systems.

The 2.206 petition first goes to the director of the agency’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation for an opinion. The Commissioners can then assess the issue and adopt, modify, or overrule the director’s opinion.

“All along,” said David Lochbaum, “the engineers were told that this was a really big deal, and then the Office of Legal Counsel shoots it down and senior management apparently says it hasn’t happened often so let’s move on.

“A larger issue, then, is why did these guys have to take the petition route? Why didn’t senior managers back them up? Since the current reactor oversight program was adopted in 2000 there have only been 4 or 5 incidents that warranted a red finding against a plant.  Then this comes up, and it’s a red finding on the whole industry, and the engineers are told to give up.

“What kind of safety regulation is that?”


Indian Point - riverside 

By Roger Witherspoon

            For more than a decade, it has been impossible for operators of the Indian Point nuclear power plant to stop highly radioactive reactor and spent fuel pool coolant from leaking into the groundwater and migrating to the Hudson River.

And despite assurances from Entergy that this time will be different, there is no indication that the company has developed the ability to prevent the latest uncontrolled leaks from following the underground waterway into the Hudson. And because the river is a tidal estuary flowing as much as 20 miles above and below the nuclear site, radioactive contaminants may be sucked into the drinking water systems of several river towns.

While Entergy focuses attention on tritium, a radioactive form of water and the predominant contaminant leaking from the plant’s cooling system, the actual leak contains a basket of radioactive elements, including Strontium-90, Cesium-137, Cobalt-60, and Nickel-63 according to an assessment by the New York Department of State as part of its Coastal Zone Management Assessment. ( )

The Coastal Zone Assessment, released November, 2015, expressed concern about the periodic leaks into the Hudson River because it serves as a direct water source for Poughkeepsie, Wappingers Falls, Highland, Port Ewen, East Fishkill, Hyde Park, and the Village of Rhinebeck. It is also a backup water source for some 9 million residents of New York City and Westchester County.

“Tritium,” explained David Lochbaum, nuclear safety expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “is just the first item reported. It tends to be the leading edge of any spill since it is the lightest and most mobile of the radioactive contaminants. The other isotopes slow down as they go through the soil. That other stuff is on its way, however. Tritium just wins the race.”Scan short map 3

Indeed, ongoing monitoring by the NY State Department of Health ( )  has found detectable deposits of a broad variety of radioactive isotopes above and below the Indian Point discharge site into the fast-moving Hudson River tidal estuary that the Native Americans referred to as “the river that runs both ways.”

Indian Point schematics provided by the NRC show the site of the leak or leaks is roughly 69 feet above the Hudson River at the beginning of a groundwater flow that widens to about 80 feet as it rushes downward, pools above the bedrock and then flows inexorably into the Hudson River. (  )  Once the contaminants enter that groundwater flow there is no system at Indian Point to remove them. Entergy representatives declined to comment on planned and unplanned radioactive discharges into the environment.


The sequence of events leading to leaks of radioactive liquids from Indian Point 2 is the subject of an intense investigation by federal and state officials. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission dispatched a radiation specialist to Indian Point Thursday to work with the three, on-site, resident inspectors to determine how the leak occurred and whether or not it can be stopped. There are more than three miles of inaccessible piping under the 239-acre site, and the inability of Entergy to properly assess possible corrosion within the pipes has been a key part of the ongoing challenge to the plants’ licenses by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered the state Departments of Health, Environmental Conservation, and Public Service to coordinate investigations into maintenance issues at Indian Point.

In the past, the Coastal Zone Management report states, “radioactive releases have been detected at the Indian Point facility from cracks in two different spent fuel pools. Leaks of radioactive liquids from the Indian Point 2 spent fuel pools have reached the Hudson River and have been detected in the groundwater beneath the Indian Point facility.”

Entergy has sought to assure the public that there is no possible danger from the leaking liquids. In their initial announcement that high levels of tritium had been found in three monitoring wells near Indian Point 2, the company insisted that there was nothing to worry about.

“While elevated tritium in the ground onsite is not in accordance with our standards, there is no health or safety consequence to the public, and releases are more than a thousand times below federal permissible limits,” the company statement said.” The tritium did not affect any source of drinking water onsite or offsite.”

That blanket assertion of safety may not be true.

The leaks were first detected Friday in three monitoring wells (30, 31, and 32) between the spent fuel building, the reactor containment building, and the Reserve Water Storage Tank (RWST), a 350,000-gallon stainless steel structure that plays a critical role in the reactor’s operation. ( ).

The operating reactor core contains water with boron, which serves to moderate the fission reactions and help make them more controllable. Some of the water in that fission environment becomes radioactive tritium. In order to monitor fluctuations within the highly pressurized reactor, there is a steady stream of this coolant which is siphoned off for both analysis – to determine if there is an appropriate amount of boron in the mix – and to detect particles, which indicates cracks in some of the fuel rods.

“The movement of the fluid is not always a closed loop,” explained Lochbaum. “There are occasional balance issues. When the reactor changes power levels the water heats up and expands or cools and contracts. The system is used to supply water or take water out.”

Lochbaum said there is a wide array of pipes leading to the storage tank, “and both tanks and pipes have leaked in the past, which is why they have monitoring wells.”

The tank is also used to supply coolant during refueling outages.  The water in the tank fills the well holding the reactor, so the top can be removed under several feet of coolant and workers can safely access the fuel rods.

Initial reports from Entergy to the NRC and to Gov. Cuomo’s office were that the tritium readings were as high as 8 million picocuries per liter – far above the 20,000 picocuries per liter limit that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has set for drinking water.

A picocurie is a molecular level measurement that is just one trillionth of a Curie. But radiation and other contaminants in the environment are frequently measured in scales of one part per billion, because at that level there can be significant damage to a person’s cell structure or DNA.  The NRC and Entergy consider the periodic spills to be safe because the Hudson River is not considered drinking water and, therefore, EPA safe limits do not apply. The fact that several river towns do use the Hudson as a primary water source is discounted because the radioactive flow is diluted by the rest of the water in the River.

But that ignores the fact that radioactive particles do not dissolve or lose their potency even if they are harder to encounter.  The State Coastal Management review, to some degree, shares that view.

The possibility that people will come into contact with the radioactive material, even in small  quantities, prompted Paul Gallay, director of the environmental group Riverkeeper,  to call for closing the plants pending an investigation of the latest accident.

“The NRC says there is no safe level of tritium contamination,” said Gallay. “When tritium is released in concentrations as high as 400 times the standard for drinking water, it is not out of the realm of possibility that people recreating in the Hudson River will come into contact with that material, or consume fish that ingested some of this material. There is certainly a risk to the environment.”

Entergy has a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit which entitles Indian Point to regularly pour radioactive contaminants into the groundwater, the Hudson River, and the air. In 2013 Indian Point released 1,300 Curies of radioactive material into the Hudson and the Buchanan air. That is trillions of times more radioactive material, released legally, than is being released accidentally now. DEC officials would not immediately release discharge figures for 2014 and 2015, or discuss possible impacts on the municipal water systems utilizing the Hudson River.

Susan Shapiro of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, a civic group seeking to close the plants, said the NRC should penalize Entergy for exceeding its operating license and state discharge permit with the accidental releases of additional radioactive material into the groundwater.

“If you have a mom and pop gas station and they have an underground leak,” Shapiro said, “they would be immediately shut down until the leak is plugged.  In New York State, all groundwater has to be potable and contamination is not permitted.

“But Entergy is getting away with contaminating our groundwater just because they are under the auspices of a government agency that doesn’t feel as strongly about our water.  For me, that is shocking.”




Sloop Clearwater- Photo by Anthony Pepitone

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater – Photo by Anthony Pepitone



By Roger Witherspoon

Clearwater, the groundbreaking environmental organization founded by Pete Seeger which spearheaded the drive for the national 1972 Clean Water Act ( ), is in such dire financial straits that it intends to cancel or relocate its famed Hudson River Revival Festival and its historic sloop may not be repaired in time for this year’s sailing season.

The Clearwater ( ) board of directors will announce today, in advance of their scheduled public meeting in Beacon, NY, their decision on the fate of the  annual Revival, which has been held Fathers’ Day weekend for more than a decade at Croton Point Park.  The board decision, without any input from members, is based on recommendations from Clearwater’s Executive Director, Peter Gross, and senior staff.

Of even more long-term significance is the fact that in addition to the festival, Clearwater’s board is reconsidering the organization’s ongoing involvement in several high-profile issues, including fracking upstate along the Marcellus Shale, the expansion of the Algonquin gas pipelines in the Lower Hudson Valley, and the continued operation of the Indian Point Nuclear power plant some 25 miles north of New York City. Clearwater and Riverkeeper have been the two key non-profit organizations with the financial ability to hire lawyers and experts to challenge the relicensing of the twin reactors. Their efforts, along with the organizational reach of the volunteer Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, brought the State of New York into the fight on their side. As a result the relicensing battle, now in its seventh year, is the most expensive and protracted in the nation. And it was a coalition led by Clearwater that pushed the EPA to order the dredging of some 2.65 million cubic yards of muck at the bottom of the Hudson River that was laden with PCBs

Pete Seeger on board the ClearwaterSeeger founded Clearwater at a time when the Hudson was an industrial sewer, and dedicated the organization to fighting river pollution and restoring it to environmental health. Scaling back that level of involvement is causing friction among members.

Gross’ assessment of the financial health of the organization and his views on the 50-year-old festival and the future of Clearwater activism triggered such a bitter dispute among core staff that all 46 volunteer members of the Revival Planning Committee, the Festival Director, the assistant director, the financial director, and the development director resigned en masse at a contention meeting.

This in-house brawl did not become public until this week, when Roy Volpe, who has coordinated the “Activist” area of the festival for more than a decade, sent out an email to former participants explaining the dissidents’ view of the dispute. Volpe, who declined to elaborate on his letter, wrote that “the Executive Director, along with the board, has planned a festival in Beacon and is calling it the Great Hudson River Revival. He also told us that we would never go back to Croton again. This is NOT Revival and we think that not going back to Croton is ridiculous and that using the same name for this event turns its back on nearly 50 years of tradition.

“All this is being done with no input from the membership.  In addition to this, the Director has voiced his opinion that Clearwater should not spend its time on issues, including Indian Point, fracking, global warming, and the Algonquin Pipeline, all of which Toshi and Pete Seeger opposed….”

Among those surprised that the Festival may be cancelled is Croton on Hudson Mayor Dr. Greg Schmidt, who said “it’s a great event in our local community. It’s like an institution in our back yard that has been here for many, many years.”

Schmidt, who did not know of the loss until informed by a reporter, said there is a significant monetary impact on the town since there are more than 1,000 volunteers involved setting up the festival who are spending  money on food and supplies in Croton. More importantly, he said, “it is an institution. An event like that doesn’t happen all the time, and it creates a community of its own. Residents have been volunteering at the Festival for years.”

Gross said in an interview that the ire against him is misplaced The final decision as to the fate of the Festival rests with the board of directors, which has been discussing the issue and  conducting an email vote on Clearwater’s future direction. One option is to move the Festival to Beacon, and have a smaller, one-day fest similar to the Strawberry, Pumpkin, and Corn Festivals held there each summer by the Beacon Sloop Club, a Clearwater affiliate ( ).

The problem, said Gross, stems from the unpredictability of relying on a fundraising event that is dependent on the weather.   The Festival costs about $900,000 to produce, he said. “Our best year, in terms of profit, was 2014 when the profit was over $200,000” Gross explained. “On an investment of that size, that was OK.

“But last year we had the very serious problem of rain. And the problem was more the forecast early in the week than the actuality that weekend. If people think it is going to rain then ticket sales fall off pretty rapidly. Last year’s profit was about $35,000.

“There are still bills unpaid. We are going through other expenses, including the restoration of the boat. If I look at the profit & loss statement for the Festival itself, it shows a net profit. But when money comes in we may have to apply it to other urgent things. The Festival was profitable by a little bit, but our needs are greater.”

He estimated that the crowd in 2014, when the weather was sunny, was about 17,000. Last year it was estimated at under 10,000.

Gross said the biggest fiscal hurdle involves repairing the Sloop Clearwater, a replica of the sailing ships that plied the Hudson River for more than a century.. The Sloop is now a floating classroom which has carried more than a half million students up and down the river.

“It is so different from what they get in a classroom,” said Gross. “We get a lifelong commitment to the river from those kids. They want to be stewards of the Hudson River. It’s a magical thing that they do with that floating classroom that no organization does. That’s the glory of Clearwater, I think.”

But those glory days are threatened.

Gross said the mass defection of the planning committee, which oversees all the work of some 1,000 volunteers and professionals, stems from a “very deep misunderstanding.” Gross said it was not his or the board of directors’ intention to abandon Clearwater’s activist mission.

“One view on the board,” he explained, “is that we should really focus on Hudson River issues and river community issues. When we talk about broader things like Indian Point we should connect it to river issues.

“We have to go through our portfolio of things we care about and look at them in terms of our prime mission, which involves the river and river community.”

Indian Point is the largest water user in the state of New York. It siphons 2.5 billion gallons daily from the Hudson to cool its power generating system and returns it up to 30 degrees hotter. The 9 million residents of NYC and neighboring Westchester County, where the plant sits, use 1.2 billion gallons daily. In the process of sucking in so much water, the plants kill some 2 billion fish annually which has devastated spawning grounds for many species, according to state and federal analysis.

As for the construction of the Algonquin Pipeline, Gross said the fact that the pipeline goes underneath the Hudson River doesn’t necessarily mean there is a valid issue Clearwater should get involved with.
“We need to figure out if the fact that it goes under the river is a strong enough connection to our mission to be involved.  The same with fracking. I’ve been in Pennsylvania and talked to families that had their water destroyed by fracking. But can Clearwater establish enough of a nexus to the river that we can say this is an issue where we need to be out front?”

Gross said Volpe and others who led the charge to resign “never really asked me what I really think. We never had that dialogue, and it’s unfortunate.”

The biggest bone of contention, however, was over the Festival. Gross acknowledged that during the discussion “at first I did say I don’t think we should ever go back to Croton Point Park because the fixed costs are too high. It would not be a wise decision this year, given our financial situation. I don’t know what can be done for next year.

“But within 10 minutes I said I took that back because I don’t know what the board will choose to do. The decision to have the Festival is the board’s, not mine.”

The board will announce today if there will be a Festival this year, where it will be held, and its duration. The meeting will be held at 6:30 PM in The Red Barn, at 8 Long Dock Rd., Beacon.




Rep Leonard Lance - R-NJ - In House



By Roger Witherspoon


To environmental activists, their dramatically changing relationship with Congressman Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) is baffling.

“He started out with a 71% rating in 2009,” said Alex Taurel, Deputy Legislative Director of the League of Conservation Voters (  ). “Now it’s 21%. That’s a pretty precipitous 50-point slide backwards.

“When he first came to Congress he was an ally on the environment. He voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a historic bill to create clean energy jobs and cut carbon pollution.  That was a very strong, pro-environment vote that he took, and his was one of the top environmental scores among Republicans in 2009. But now he is unfortunately voting as if we do not have a moral obligation to our children and grandchildren to address global climate change.”

Where Taurel is measured in his criticism, Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the NRDC Action Fund, is emphatically not. “In a state like New Jersey,” she said, “here is a member of Congress who could be out there saying all the right things and be consistent with his traditional voting record.

“He could be a leader. He could make a difference. He went from supporting the kind of legislation to address climate change to voting against its existence. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The change in Lance’s voting record is the reason the Action Fund, the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, chose to name Lance the 7th designated Dirty Denier (  ),  a small but growing list of congressmen who oppose efforts to clean up the environment and mitigate climate change.

The only thing baffling to the Congressman, however, is the criticism.

“I disagree with the premise that he’s changed,” said Todd Mitchell, Lance’s Chief of Staff. “The Congressman can only vote on what is put before him. It doesn’t surprise me that his voting record was higher in a year that the Democrats controlled Congress.

“Just two weeks ago the Congressman was one of only eight Republicans who voted against a bill that would have gutted the endangered species act.”

What has changed since the GOP took control of the House, said Mitchell, is the emphasis on fostering business development, rather than environmental protection.

“There has been a greater focus on votes to deregulate many of the regulations which many Republicans believe are hurting, not helping our economy,” Mitchell explained.  “The Congressman has rightfully focused on measures that focus on environmental protection and job creation.”

Rep. Lance, whose sprawling district runs from parts of Essex County to the Delaware River, has not changed the way he evaluates environmental legislation, said Mitchell. “He asks how does it strike a balance?” explained Mitchell. “How does it affect our economy and job creation and, on balance, affect the environment?”

Yet while Lance supported climate change legislation as a freshman in Congress, Mitchell said the Congressman’s current position is “climate change is occurring and human activity is a contributing factor. But it’s uncertain how much of the warming is attributable to humans and how much is attributable to other factors.”

To his critics, however, the change is Lance’s voting record is not so nuanced.

Heather Taylor-Miesle - 1

“Lance is a member of Congress we used to work with all the time,” Taylor-Miesle said, wistfully. “He was a super standup guy. He was smart. He wanted to know the facts, and we worked with him all the time…He was part of a coalition of Republicans who worked with different Democrats. They were non-partisan when it came to the environment, from Yellowstone National Park to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He wasn’t with us all the time, but he worked with us to make sure there was a lot of common sense in the statutes.

“But he’s taken only one good environmental vote in all of 2014, and that was on the endangered species act. He voted against regulating particulate carbon pollution; against the clean-up of toxic mining waste. He voted to allow the foregoing of buffer zones, a requirement that keeps mining debris out of waterways.

“It makes no sense at all. We had 21 votes on the environment that we felt were important enough to rank. He has only taken one that was good for the environment. That’s not the Leonard Lance that we knew.”

There were two important environmental votes passed by the House Republicans which most angered environmental groups:  the Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012; and the omnibus Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2013.

The League of Conservation Voters’ scorecard labeled the Coal Act simply a “Broad Environmental Assault.” It would have barred the Secretary of the Interior from issuing any rules protecting streams from mountaintop removal, blocked Interior and EPA from setting any limits on carbon emissions from power plants, end Clean Air Act protections for smog and mercury pollution, and eliminate the federal minimum standards for water quality.

The LCV’s Taurel said “the coal bill had everything. It permitted mountaintop removal. It removes restrictions on toxic laden coal ash. It guts the core of the Clean Water Act. It’s just a disgusting bill and Congressman Lance voted for this thing, something that people in New Jersey did not support, to put it mildly.”

The REINS act, on the other hand, represents an effort by House Republicans to alter the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government. The act would require Congressional approval of all regulations which a total economic impact of more than $100 million – a figure reached by virtually every national law.

Since the nation’s founding, Congress has been empowered to make laws, and the executive branch implements them through regulations. There was a proposed amendment to this act which would have exempted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is considering a slate of safety measures to impose on the nation’s nuclear fleet in the wake of the meltdowns three years ago in Fukushima, Japan. Lance opposed that exemption.

Mitchell explained Lance’s support of the REINS act as an overdue correction of the balance of power between the branches of government. “It is up to the Congress, not the administration, to put forth the laws,” he said. “And it’s up to the administration to implement them. It’s Congress’ view that in this administration they are going above and beyond, and making their own laws.

“Carving out the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is unfair. We are all for reactor safety. The issue is one agency should not be exempt from the overall Congressional umbrella.  Congress should have a say in any scientific opinion that has any bearing on legislation and lawmaking.”

Nonsense, declared the NRDC’s Taylor-Miesle.

“The REINS Act is one of those bills that keep me up at night,” said Taylor-Miesle. “This idea that Congress is really the one which should be making regulations completely upsets the balance of power. REINS is probably one of the most radical concepts that has been proposed. It would impose a full government shutdown.”

Currently, there is a transparent legal process for developing regulations, which begin with lengthy studies by experts and includes exhaustive comments from stakeholders and the public.

“All that would be replaced under the REINS ACT by Congress,” she said. “There would be a lot of secrecy associated with it – no one in Congress has to tell you what they are doing.  It would affect every single regulatory statute. Take regulations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission concerning little children injured from cribs. Where does Congress get off thinking they know anything about cribs? How would they know how far apart the bars should be? The Commission puts out lists of what toys are not safe, or what parts of toys need to be changed so there is less of a choking hazard. How would Congress know to do that?

“That’s one reason Lance got on the Dirty Denier list. This bill is exactly the kind of bill the old Leonard Lance would never have supported. He could be a real leader here and differentiate himself from the other 435 members of Congress. Instead, he has chosen to cower and hide and kowtow to the Tea Party. We would love to tell the world how great Leonard Lance is. But we also have to tell them when he has faltered.”

NJ 7th Congressional District

NJ 7th Congressional District








Posted by: roger6t6 | July 19, 2014

Nuke Plant May Shut to Spare Spawning Fish


Indian Point 1 - 3

By Roger Witherspoon



New York State is prepared to close 40 years of intermittent and costly legal wrangling over the annual destruction of billions of fish by the twin Indian Point nuclear power plants in the productive Hudson River estuary if the plant agrees to shut down during peak spawning and hatching seasons for the river’s major fish populations.

But such a deal, if ratified, would mean the plants could be shut from 13 weeks to 32 weeks, an enforced idleness which could doom the already stressed financial position of Indian Point, which is having difficulty securing steady customers for its electricity due to increased competition, particularly from lower cost wind and natural gas. The maximum shut down, if required,  would close  the plant from February 15 through September 15, and would cut Indian Point’s revenues by about $9.5 billion over 20 years, or  57% of their  revenue, according to an analysis prepared by Entergy, the plants’ owner, for ongoing hearings before a panel of Administrative Law Judges at the Department of Environmental Conservation. The panel will hold a public hearing on the proposed forced outages July 22 in Cortlandt Manor, about two miles from the power plant site.

Manna Jo Greene - on the Clearwater

“Permanent outages are a good idea,” said Manna Jo Greene, an Ulster County Commissioner and environment director for Clearwater. “But they should start January 1 and end December 31.  The state has had the ability to enforce permanent outages for a very long time. We didn’t have to lose the shad fishery on the Hudson River. With this proposal, they are closing the barn door after the horses are out.

“After working on Hudson River issues for 40 years we are finding that 10 of the 13 signature Hudson River fish species are still in decline. We have long had shad festivals on the river, but for the last few years, the festivals have all been shad-less. The commercial fishermen can no longer catch Hudson River shad. It’s a sad state of affairs that should never have been allowed to get this far.  Closing Indian Point will be a huge benefit to the Hudson River ecology.”

Indian Point 2 was built and operated by Consolidated Edison, which has some 4 million residential and 250,000 business customers; and Indian point 3 was built and operated by the New York Power Authority which provides electricity for government entities, including LaGuardia and Westchester Airports, the subways, Metro North, streetlights, schools, public housing, and municipal buildings. Prior to deregulation in 1999, the plants’ combined 2,000 Megawatts of electricity was controlled by its respective owners.

Now, however, ConEd contracts for only 560 MW and NYPA uses no electricity from  the nuclear installation in Buchanan, about 25 miles north of Manhattan. Entergy is forced to sell the remaining 75% of its electricity in the daily auction, and not always at favorable prices. That 560 MW represents only 4% of the roughly 13,000 MW used in the New York City/Westchester County service area of the state’s electric grid on a typical summer day. Proponents of Indian Point contend that its electricity is still going to the same users. But NYPA’s government customers operate with annual budgets requiring the type of stability only guaranteed by long-term contracts.

According to the NY Independent System Operator, which runs the state grid and the electricity auction markets, Indian Point 2 could close with no impact at all on regional electrical needs or system reliability. If Indian Point 3 also closes a shortfall of some 750 megawatts could develop in the ensuing decade unless it is made up with any combination of new generation, improved transmission, and electricity conservation.

Indian Point thermal plume

Indian Point thermal plume

The state’s  proposal for protection of the fish, developed by the staff of the Department of Environmental Conservation with the backing of Riverkeeper, the environmental organization, was put forward as an alternative to forcing the company to shift from its current “once through cooling” system to a closed cycle  system. With once through cooling, Hudson River water is used in a heat exchanger to cool the steam after it passes through the electricity-generating turbines. The river water is then dumped back into the river, though it is now much hotter. In the course of a year, the plant dumps some 220 trillion BTUs of heat into the estuary – the equivalent of the heat generated by detonating an atomic bomb the size of the one which levelled Hiroshima approximately every two hours in the middle of the river.

In addition, the seven, van-sized pumps used to draw river water though the 40-foot wide intake canal pull in 2.5 billion gallons of water daily – more than double the 1.2 billion gallons of water used daily by the 9 million residents of New York City and Westchester County.

But the pumps draw in far more than water. Even though the plants put screens in front of their intake pipes in 1982, the powerful suction draws in and kills some 2 billion adult and juvenile fish annually, and vacuums newly hatched fish by the hundreds of millions.

Closed cycle cooling would require Entergy to construct a mechanical draft system resembling an industrial sized radiator, which would air-cool and then recycle the water. Such a system would reduce water use and fish kills by 95%. The proposed array discussed at DEC hearings this spring would consist of 9 or more “cells” about 170 feet high. To put that into perspective, the containment domes at Indian Point 2 and 3 are each 276 feet high.

Entergy has resisted the call for such construction, and its engineering experts testified in May that crews would have to blast   through 60 to 70 feet of earth and rock to get to a firm bedrock foundation. The blasting would endanger important electrical systems and relays, which could be triggered by the vibrations of the blasts, which equate to localized earthquakes. Such vibrations trigger “chatter” in which electrical switches open or close solely because of the motion. In addition, much of the ground under the operational part of the 240-acre site is contaminated from intermittent leaks of water containing a wide range of radioactive particulates from some three miles of inaccessible, underground, 40-year-old pipes. Blasting into this slurry would create a range of contamination hazards.

Entergy has proposed the setting up an extensive series of wedge wire screens covering five to seven acres of the Hudson River floor around the plant. It is not a new idea. In 2003 the federal EPA in the Bush Administration issued a list of alternatives to closed cycle cooling which included the use of wedge wire screens. A coalition of environmental groups, including Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson; New York and five New England states; and Entergy challenged various aspects of the EPA rule in a case decided by the US Supreme Court in 2009.

Entergy specifically fought the inclusion of wedge wire screens, charging they were never designed for systems using more than 100 million gallons of water per day and were unsuited for nuclear power plants. That is not their current position.

The proposed forced shut downs would primarily affect the spawning period of June through August, and the migrating period of December through March. The winter months show the highest density of fish trapped in the Indian point cooling system, while the highest actual numbers are during the spring and summer spawning season.

The Atomic Energy Commission, which initially licensed Indian Point in the 1960s, and then its successor organization, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission first said as addendums to the plant license that Indian Point needed  closed cycle cooling systems. But the issue faded during the 12-year administration of Republican George Pataki, which allowed the plants to operate for a decade with expired water discharge permits. That ended with federal suits successfully brought by Riverkeeper, Clearwater and Scenic Hudson, and the DEC ordered Entergy to upgrade the site in 2003. Entergy has been fighting the issue ever since, with Riverkeeper and Clearwater as its primary citizen antagonists. The state Attorney General’s office, first under Andrew Cuomo and now under Eric Schneiderman, has fought a protracted legal battle largely in federal court against federal administrative proceedings to shut the plant for a variety of safety issues.

But the NRC has doggedly resisted those efforts, and the biggest threat to the continuance of the Indian Point plants has been the threat of shutting off its water. If there is a formal agreement that is found to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act, it would eliminate the biggest administrative threat to the continued operation of Indian Point. There remains the need for certification by the Secretary of State’s office that the plant’s operations comply with the state’s coastal management plan. A DEC agreement mitigating the fish kills, however, may bring the plants into compliance with coastal requirements.


Posted by: roger6t6 | January 17, 2014

Wide Gulf and Angry Words In Indian Point Labor Talks

Indian Point 1 - 3


By Roger Witherspoon


          Rye, N.Y. – Two days of contract talks with federal mediators ended Thursday night with angry union negotiators and no deal in sight on the last day of the contract between Entergy Nuclear and nearly 400 workers at the Indian Point power plant.

Talks between company representatives and the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 1-2 broke up shortly before 10 PM Thursday at the Rye Hilton, where both sides have been sequestered since Wednesday morning. Union local President James Slevin huddled with mediators from the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service after angrily leaving the contract discussions.

“The company doesn’t seem like it’s ready to get serious about negotiating a fair contract,” said UWU spokesman John Melia. “They haven’t put anything on the table except takeaways and a regressive offer. It doesn’t seem like they are ready to negotiate in good faith. It seems as if Entergy is trying to provoke a labor dispute.

“They have a pattern of doing this. They are very anti-labor and have a mindset that every shareholder should get rich and no one else.”

Melia referred to the five-week lockout by Entergy of UWU members at its Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts in June, 2012.  The lockout occurred during negotiations and after union leaders had agreed to two contract extensions so the talks could continue without a plant interruption. At the time of the lockout, Entergy was demanding concessions in pay, benefits, health care, and work rules.  The final contract included 3% raises for the unionized workers.

Entergy representatives declined to comment Thursday. Neither of the parties nor the mediators are publicly discussing contract specifics. However, Entergy is believed to be seeking – at least in its initial stage of discussions – wage cuts and increased employee contributions to health care.

“That was a calculated risk at Pilgrim outside of Boston,” said Melia, “and a bigger risk outside New York City.  If you think these guys out of the Louisiana swamps want to roll the dice in the biggest metropolitan area of the United States, then they just brought Duck Dynasty to Buchanan, New York. It feels like they are saying ‘those Yankees, you know how they are.’

“They talk about how they do things down there in the South as if the country is still as divided as it was 160 years ago.”

If there is a strike or lockout, Entergy has prepared a work plan using primarily non-union management. That sort of replacement is easier at the twin Indian Point plants than at Entergy’s smaller, single reactor Pilgrim plant. There were some 1,500 union workers at Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 when Entergy bought the power plants from the New York Power Authority and Con Edison in 2001. Entergy shed union positions in its consolidation of the two separate facilities, and now there are just 395 UWU employees.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already approved Entergy’s strike contingency plan. Agency spokesman Neil Sheehan said the agency reviewed the staffing plans “to ensure that public health and safety will be maintained during any strike period.

IP2 Control Room

IP2 Control Room

The NRC’s review certified that “The required minimum number of personnel will be available for the proper safety and security of the facility,” said Sheehan in an email exchange. In addition, he wrote, Entergy’s plan “plan provides assurance that the plant will continue to be maintained in a safe condition in accordance with the regulatory requirements.”

The control room operators are members of the union. If there is a strike or lockout, said Sheehan, the control rooms will be manned by non-unionized supervisors who have been recertified and are qualified to handle any problems that may arise.

“In order to keep an operator’s license,” he explained, “the supervisors have to prove they can operate the plant safely. It is something they have to demonstrate on an ongoing basis in order to keep their certification current.”

NYC Subway

NYC Subway

While union employment has been cut at Indian Point, the financial picture has also changed for Entergy. When Entergy bought the plants ConEd and NYPA purchased all 2,000 Megawatts of electricity generated at Indian Point 2&3. But as transmission capabilities increased and gas powered generation became more plentiful and cheaper, both utilities began buying their electricity elsewhere.

ConEd, which has some 4 million residential and 200,000 business customers in NYC and Westchester County, now buys just 560 Megawatts from Indian Point. NYPA, which provides electricity to municipal buildings, the airports, street lights, schools and the subways, let its contract lapse at the end of September, 2013, and now buys no electricity from the nuclear facility. The lone contract for 560 Megawatts represents just 5% of the daily peak electrical load of about 9,000 MW in the winter and 13,000 MW in the summer.

Still, the twin plants are making money and the last projections submitted to the state called for profits of about $1 billion annually. And as long as the plant is profitable, the union is reluctant to consider givebacks.

“We made it very clear,” said Melia, “that we are determined to get a fair shake.  Entergy is playing fast and loose with the welfare of thousands of people, and fast and loose with the nuclear power facilities they own and operate.

“My president isn’t hopeful.”



Posted by: roger6t6 | January 15, 2014

Strike Threat Looms at Indian Point

Indian Point 1 - 3

By Roger Witherspoon

          Representatives of Entergy Nuclear and the union representing control room operators and other technical workers are preparing for around the clock bargaining sessions beginning Wednesday to avoid a strike at the two Indian Point nuclear plants on the banks of the Hudson River some 25 miles north of Manhattan.

John Melia, spokesman for the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 1-2 said the two sides will be sequestered at the Rye Hilton beginning at noon and enter unbroken talks to hammer out a  replacement to the current four-year contract, which expires at midnight, Friday.

Last week, the union overwhelmingly voted to authorize Local President James Slevin to call a strike if no contract was reached. And Thursday, some 50 workers marched on practice picket lines in front of the Buchanan plants as a final step in preparation for a strike.

“They had signs and union paraphernalia,” said Melia. “It was an exercise showing that the unionized workers are serious about obtaining a fair contract. We authorize strikes because that is one of the few tools left to us, and we use it to show that we are serious.

“That said, no one ever wants a strike. No one wins in a strike.”

The negotiating teams of the Utility Workers and Entergy will be joined by Commissioners Peter Donatello and Martin Callaghan of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) who seek to facilitate discussions and avert a strike. The Service is an independent government agency which provides mediating service when requested.

Agency spokesman John Arnold said “we are responding to a joint request from the parties involved.” The actual mediation process is secret, he added, and the commissioners will not be providing status reports to the public. Entergy declined to comment.

Melia said there were no particular sticking points, but the company and union differed on wages and benefits, particularly the level of employee contributions to health care.

“It’s been a pattern in collective bargaining the last few years,” Melia said, “that big corporations like to throw their weight around. They seek an increase in member contributions to health care spending. They seem to think that the costs are going through the roof and it’s another thing that employers seize upon to nickel and dime the workers.”

But a strike would be hard on the workers. There were some 1,500 union workers in 2001 when Entergy bought Indian Point 2 from Consolidated Edison, and Indian Point 3 from the New York Power Authority.  As the plants were consolidated Entergy eliminated many positions and others were converted over time to non-union positions.

With membership at about 375 – just 25% of what it was before Entergy bought the plants – Local 1-2 does not have the numbers and income to maintain a strike fund.  In 1978, when Melia was a reporter at the New York Daily News, the strike fund of the New York Newspaper Guild paid each member a small stipend for the duration of the four-month strike.

But with the utility union’s diminished numbers, Melia said, “We are not in a position to provide benefits to our members. We have funds to carry out our day to day functions as a union, but we do not have a strike fund to service the members.”

It is also a tough economic period for Entergy.  The talks with its unionized workers take place at a time when the nuclear industry is facing severe financial challenges due to competition from low-priced natural gas. The huge amounts of gas produced in recent years by hydraulic fracturing have altered the dynamics of the electricity marketplace.  Entergy Nuclear Northeast is closing its Vermont Yankee plant – which received a 20-year license extension in 2011 – because it is no longer profitable.

And an analysis of operations at Entergy’s James A. FitzPatrick plant by the Union of Concerned Scientists found the plant is having serious problems with degrading older equipment, particularly in its critical condenser.  The UCS analysis, submitted to the NRC in July, found that 30% of all condenser tube breaks in throughout the nation’s 104 reactors during the past decade occurred at FitzPatrick.

“More troubling is the recent trend that strongly suggests the bad situation at FitzPatrick is getting worse,” the analysis states.

Entergy has also spent millions of dollars fighting a series of challenges from the State of New York and various environmental groups, particularly Riverkeeper, and Clearwater. It is seeking to extend the operating licenses of the twin plants another 20 years – a process that normally takes less than two years but has so far extended for six years.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted 20-year extensions to more than 70 plants, including four in New Jersey, and those legal proceedings lasted an average of 18 months.

The initial 40-year license for Indian Point 2 expired last Sept. 28 and it is being allowed to continue operating without a valid license until the license fight is concluded (  ).  The license for Indian Point 3 expires at the end of 2015.

In addition to the license fight, the Department of Environmental Conservation has denied Entergy a water discharge permit unless they shift from “once-through cooling,” in which the plant uses Hudson River water to cool their equipment and returns heated water to the river. The process kills some two billion juvenile and adult fish annually, and some 300 million baby fish that are literally vacuumed from the estuary’s spawning grounds.  The plant’s 40-foot-wide intake sucks in 2.5 billion gallons of river water daily – more than twice the water used by the 9 million residents and visitors.

The DEC insists that Indian Point install a mechanical draft system – which resembles a four-story radiator – or shut down. In addition, the New York Department of State has yet to certify if the plants’ operations are in compliance with the state Coastal Management Plan. If not, it would have to shut down.

The uncertainty about the plants’ future viability and the availability of alternative electricity generator sources has made it difficult for Entergy to secure business.  The New York Independent System Operator, which operates the state’s grid and deregulated electrical marketplace, stated in its 2013 projection that if Indian Point 2 shut down it would not be missed. If Indian Point 3 shuts down in 2015, however, there could be a shortfall of some 750 megawatts during the ensuing five years. That shortfall would need to be made up by new generation, additional transmission, increased conservation, or any combination of those improvements.

Customers, meanwhile, have been fleeing to other providers.

The New York Power Authority, which provides the electricity for municipal governments in New York City and Westchester County – including government buildings, schools, street lights, the airports, the subways and Metro North – no longer buys any electricity from Indian Point.  NYPA reduced its contracted amount from 1,000 megawatts in 2007 to just 200 MW last year, and did not renew the agreement when it expired in September.

ConEd, which sold Indian Point 2 to Entergy, reduced its contracted daily purchase from 1,000 MW to just 560 MW. ConEd transmits all the electricity used in this market, and has some 4 million residential and 200,000 business clients.

Entergy sells the remaining 75% of its electricity to clients elsewhere, primarily in New England through the low-margin spot markets. It now provides only 5% of the winter daily peak load of 9,000 MW and the summer load of 13,000 MW to NYC and Westchester County.

According to Justin McCann, senior industry analyst with Standard & Poor’s Equity, Entergy had contracts covering 95% of its electrical output in 2011. That has dropped to 25% this year and just 15% for 2015.

“There is a hostile political environment,” said McCann, “so there is going to be tension here and how it is going to play out, I have no idea. How they are going to operate, who they are going to sell it to, and at what price – I’m not even sure they are sure of that.”


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