Hudson River cleanup could take months after Indian Point 3 fire

Entergy (NYSE:ETR) said late May 15 that complete cleanup of the Hudson River could take several months following a May 9 transformer fire at the Indian Point 3 nuclear facility in Buchanan, N.Y.

Unit 3 remains safely shutdown as of early May 18. Indian Point Unit 2 continues to operate at full power and has been online for 423 continuous days, Entergy said.

Entergy said 8,300 gallons of “dielectric fluid” have been recovered or were combusted during the fire. Entergy will “vigorously investigate and seek to recover as much of the remaining approximately 16,000 gallons as possible,” the company said in a news release.

At the same time Entergy said it has not detected significant amounts of “transformer oil” in the Hudson River following the accident. Some state agencies and news accounts have painted a somewhat different picture.

The office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said late May 15 that 2,271 gallons of transformer oil had been recovered as of the middle of last week. Entergy moved the damaged transformer May 15 and found it to be empty. Entergy officials had earlier reported that the transformer contained about 900 gallons of transformer oil, according to the governor’s office.

Efforts to quantify the total amount of fluids (transformer oil, water, and fire-fighting foam) lost to the system and environment is on-going, according to the governor’s office. The transformer that burned held a capacity of 24,300 gallons; it is unknown how much transformer oil was burned in the fire. A total estimate of the oil recovered will be available once the secondary containment moats are pumped out. At this time, most of the contents of the containment moats have been removed by a contractor.

Engineers and transformer experts are working to identify a cause of the transformer failure and Entergy will share that information when it becomes available, which is estimated to be by June 30.

Visual observations in the discharge canal and the Hudson River “have not indicated significant quantities of transformer oil, and further investigation and aggressive recovery efforts at the site will continue,” the company said.

Cleanup efforts are expected to take several months and will be coordinated with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

While environmental mitigation crews continue to conduct their investigation to identify potential transformer oil onsite, additional mitigation protective measures have been installed in the plant’s discharge canal to prevent the potential release of transformer oil to the river while the investigation continues.

Dielectric fluid is a clear, light mineral oil that acts as an electrical insulator and coolant inside transformers when they are operational. The oil in the failed transformer contained no PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

“Any spill of transformer oil to the environment is not in accordance with our standards, and Entergy will be accountable for any violation of our responsibility,” said Entergy Wholesale Commodities President Bill Mohl. The Entergy executive also pledged that the company would be “open and transparent throughout the process.”

Indian Point Energy Center, in Buchanan, N.Y., is home to two operating nuclear power plants, unit 2 and unit 3, which generate approximately 2,000 MW of electricity and supply about 25 percent of power used annually in New York City and Westchester County.

Opponents of the nuclear units have been fighting a 20-year license extension for the reactors before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.