With transformer fire out at Indian Point 3, river cleanup looms

The Entergy (NYSE:ETR) Indian Point 3 nuclear unit in Buchanan, N.Y., remained offline early May 11 after a transformer fire forced the facility out of service over the weekend, resulting in an oil spill into the Hudson River.

Shortly before 6 p.m. ET on May 9, Indian Point Unit 3 experienced a fire on the 31 Main Transformer resulting in a unit trip, according to the event report filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). An “Unusual Event,” the lowest of NRC’s emergency classifications, was quickly declared, according to the event report.

The fire was initially put out at 6:15 p.m. and then “re-flashed” and was then declared out at 8:05 p.m., an NRC spokesperson told GenerationHub.  “We don’t have a number” on the gallons of oil that leaked into the river, the NRC representative added.

NRC will not need to grant permission to restart the nuclear unit. “We have no regulatory hold. The plant can restart when ready,” the NRC spokesperson said.

The plant is stable in mode 3, all control rods fully inserted, with normal offsite electrical power, and decay heat is being released to the main condenser. There was no impact on Unit 2 which continues to operate at 100% power.

“Oil from 31 Main Transformer has spilled into the discharge canal and has made its way into the river. Plant personnel are sandbagging drains and release paths. IPEC [Indian Point Energy Center] has contacted its environmental contractor,” NRC said in the event report.

The fire, which was on the non-nuclear side of the plant, was extinguished and the “unusual event” designation was lifted.

A certain amount of oil from the damaged transformer has leaked into the Hudson River, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a May 10 briefing on the incident.

“This plant is the nuclear plant that is closest to the most densely populated area on the globe,” Cuomo said. “If something goes wrong here, it can go very wrong for a lot of people. So it’s always been a priority for us.”

“So you have that issue of safety and security. And then you have a secondary issue, which is the impact on the environment,” Cuomo went on to say.

“The transformer is filled with oil. And in the process of putting out the fire, the transformer basically ruptured, discharging oil onto the ground,” Cuomo said.

“The oil then goes into a holding tank. In this case it appears that the volume of oil and water exceeded the capacity of the holding tank, and then spilled out onto the ground,” Cuomo said. “The ground empties into the drain system, the drain system goes right into the Hudson River. So you then have a secondary set of concerns about environmental damage from the fire itself,” the New York governor added.

“There is no doubt but that oil did escape from the transformer, there is no doubt that oil did go into the holding tank and exceeded the capacity of the holding tank, and there is no doubt that oil was discharged into the Hudson River,” Cuomo said. “Exactly how much, we don’t know. That will be part of an ongoing investigation,” the governor added.

Entergy sees little environmental impact to river

“While our investigation into both the cause of the transformer failure and the potential environmental issues continues, there is currently little to no evidence of any environmental impact observed in the river as a result of this event,” an Entergy spokesperson said mid-day May 11.

“We have an obligation to be as precise as possible before estimating what may or may not have been released to the water,” the Entergy representative said. “Entergy takes all potential environmental issues very seriously, which is why we took immediate action to put protections in place on the river following this event.”

“Following the failure of the transformer, an installed sprinkler system first extinguished the fire, and was followed-up by trained firefighting personnel onsite who applied an extinguishing foam,” according to the Entergy spokesperson.

“Transformer oil, unlike diesel or crude oil, is clear and light.  The oil in the failed transformer contained no PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and its spillage resulted thus far in little or no quantifiable adverse consequence to the environment,” the Entergy representative said.

“In the electric power industry transformers are known to occasionally fail, and these failures are not unique to Indian Point,” the company spokesperson added. “The most recent failure in 2010 was on a virtually new transformer, and the transformer that failed on Saturday has been in service only since 2007 – again, it is virtually new.” 

The other reactor, Indian Point 2, was still listed at 100% generation early May 11.  Indian Point 3 had been listed at 100% generation as recently as May 9.

Entergy had actually announced May 7 that it would remove Indian Point 3 from service that day following an identification of a leak of clean steam from a pipe on the non-nuclear side of the plant overnight.

Indian Point 3 had returned to service following a refueling and maintenance outage on March 25.

Indian Point Units 2 and 3 are both pressurized water reactors (PWRs) located in West Chester County, N.Y., roughly an hour’s drive from New York City. Each unit is listed with a generating capacity of more than 1,000 MW.

Each unit is involved in a contested and protracted license renewal case before the NRC. Grid officials in New York have also held a solicitation for power new generation in the event the licenses for the Indian Point units are not renewed.

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.