Two issues must be addressed, and four more will affect its future
The future of the Indian Point nuclear power station has been rocking on waves of public discontent like a rubber duck in a nor'easter gale. The latest in a series of fronts that have moved through the region is that the Indian Point Independent Safety Evaluation Panel (bios), which was chartered by the plant's operator, released its report this week and said there were two items at the top of the list.
Basically, the panel said the plant is safe, but relationships with the public are in the tank. See prior coverage on this blog - Indian Point under fire
The Panel concluded, after four months of work and meetings with the public that the plant is safe and that Entergy is focused on nuclear safety. The panel said operations are conducted competently and professionally, meeting the standards of the U.S. nuclear industry.
"Plant safety systems are well maintained and reliable. The plant's performance compares favorably to high performing plants in most aspects of nuclear safety."
The top issue that sets off the public like a 4th of July fire cracker is the failure of Indian Point's emergency siren system. Last January the NRC fined Entergy $650,000 for failed sirens. The New York Times reported that Westchester County’s government has boycotted some emergency planning activities involving the plant, at times arguing that no safe evacuation is possible and that the plant should close.
The political attacks on the plant by now former Governor Elliott Spitzer poisoned already contentious relationships with local officials, the public, and the press. It's not over. The New York Times also reported Andrew M. Cuomo, the New York attorney general, said his office would “fight tooth and nail against the relicensing of Indian Point.” The license for Indian Point 2 expires in 2013, and the license for Indian Point 3 in 2015. Here's the more measured voice of the panel on these issues.
The Panel found that Indian Point's relationship with the public and stakeholders, particularly on matters of emergency preparedness, is not healthy. Additionally, the Panel concluded that emergency response facilities and equipment do not meet high industry standards, and should be upgraded.
Overall, the Panel found that security at the plant is strong but problems with staffing shortages in some security functions and certain aging security systems and equipment should be addressed on a priority basis. That's not good news.
Four reasons why Indian Point is not out of the woods yet.
The panel didn't take on everything. There is a forest of issues yet to be resolved. Here are some highlights, and a few interpretations, based on the executive summary. There is lots of unfinished business for Entergy at Indian Point and here's why.
The panel could have put in some forward looking statements about license renewal, but passed. It recognized the realities of off-site emergency response. There will likely be future environmental releases which will affect public perceptions as well as license renewal even if they are below drinking water standards or limits in terms of radiological exposure. A reflex desire for closing the plant would have dire effects on the price of electricity in the region. It was and still is, economically, a very bad idea no matter how politically attractive it is to New York's Democratic party and to green groups that support it.
- License Renewal
The panel ducked when it came to addressing license renewal issues though its members are well aware of the implications of their report on the eventual NRC hearings that will address this issue. Indian Point submitted applications for license renewals for Units 2 & 3 in April 2007. A decision by the NRC is expected in 2010.
The Panel reminded readers it was charged with examining the current state of Indian Point. It said, "license renewal is an NRC regulatory process that addresses its suitability for extended future operation." The panel said that while some information in this report may be pertinent to license renewal, "it did not explicitly examine Indian Point operations beyond the plants’ current operating licenses."
That's all true, but like the Vermont Yankee, Indian Point's opponents will seize on every document that builds their case. The panel tread carefully, but perhaps lost an opportunity as well to be more proactive and to frame some of the issues in terms of the license renewal decision criteria.
- Off-site Emergency Preparedness
The panel issued a veiled criticism of off-site emergency preparedness organizations and said they complain a lot but don't work well with the plant. This is the heart of the second major finding, which is that public relationships are in the tank.
The panel said off-site evacuation planning and implementation are the responsibility of governmental (primarily county) organizations, with support from the reactor station. Like Desi said to Lucy, everyone in this situation has some explaining to do.
- Off-site Environmental Issues
Indian Point has been the focus of several public uproars over releases of radioactivity in cooling water discharge and the effect of the hot water on aquatic life in the Hudson river. The panel simply didn't address these issues. They will come back to haunt Indian Point the way the problems with a dilapidated cooling tower has haunted Vermont Yankee.
The panel addressed plant economics/investment, but not regional electricity supply cost/demand issues or impacts. The reasonable translation is that the panel didn't feel it had to sharpen the focus on the issue too much about the huge cost increases in electricity that would hit the region if Indian Point were closed. That should be self-evident by now.
Entergy breathes a sigh of relief
In a press release Entergy sounded relieved and said that the panel, which it chartered, was thorough and fair. This is comparable to a stand up triple and a call of "safe" at third. It isn't a home run, but at least the runner is in scoring position. Clearly, the company feels it is positioned to overcome the challenges that still face it especially the ones which the panel passed over.
"The independent panel members" hard work and expertise reinforces our belief that Indian Point is being operated safely and securely, and the plant is prepared today to respond to an emergency, including a terrorist attack."
"We will take to heart all of the independent panel's conclusions and recommendations, and we plan to use their report as a road map to achieving our goal of operating one of the nation's best run and best performing nuclear plants."
Michael Kansler, Entergy CEO, Entergy said the firm will provide a formal response to the independent panel in 60 days, including the issues raised in the report. It will describe the actions the company expects to take. Entergy also said will make this response available to the public. The next step will be to see what the company says, and more importantly, what it does. Electric bills in New York depend on it.
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