New York Nuclear Plant Restarts, Environmentalists Object

Published August 11, 2016

On June 16, 2016, the Indian Point Unit 2 nuclear reactor restarted, despite objections from environmentalists, after a routine planned maintenance shutdown.

During the maintenance, inspectors had found a small number of bolts had degraded that fasten plates that direct cooling water. Two bolts had failed entirely. Degradation of these particular bolts was not unexpected; it’s a well-known and well-studied issue that was first identified in European reactors. Indian Point replaced the bolts after finding no additional damage.

Jerry Nappi, spokesman for Entergy at Indian Point, says Entergy, which owns the reactors, went beyond replacing the damaged parts to ensure the reactor is operating safely.

“The inspections were planned in advance and done in conjunction with additional reviews and inspections in accordance with commitments we made to the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission],” said Nappi. “Entergy replaced all degraded bolts at Unit 2 this year plus an additional 51 bolts to provide added assurance of safety.”

Anti-nuclear-energy groups had used the planned shutdown and the degraded bolts found during Indian Point’s inspection to petition the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to prevent Indian Point from restarting. NRC reviewed their claims, found them lacking, and allowed the restart to move forward.

Environmentalists Go to Court

Having failed to halt the restart, environmentalists filed a lawsuit against NRC in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In Friends of the Earth et al. v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Friends of the Earth (FOE) requested the court issue an emergency order suspending Indian Point’s Unit 2 and Unit 3 operations.

In a statement responding to FOE’s complaint, NRC Senior Attorney Charles Mullins wrote, “In conclusion, NRC has concluded that Unit 2 is safe to operate under both normal conditions (‘normal plant operation’) and extreme conditions (‘the most limiting faulted conditions’), … There is thus no reason to disturb the agency’s considered judgment, formed based on its unique technical expertise, that the plant’s continued operation … will not result in the irreparable harm.”

The NRC brief also cautioned environmentalists that “… framing of their petition here as an ’emergency’ simply invites the Court, inappropriately, to substitute its judgment about nuclear safety for the NRC’s technical expertise.”

The U.S. Department of Justice announced it approved of NRC’s response to initial problems at Indian Point, and on June 23, 2016, the court ruled the NRC determination concerning Indian Point’s safety was sound, thereby denying FOE’s request to have the nuclear plant’s operations suspended.

Mark Ramsey ([email protected]) writes from Houston, Texas.