Environmental groups seek court action to prevent Indian Point 2 restart

On June 16, environmental groups that include Friends of the Earth sought from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit a writ that would compel the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to prevent a restart of Indian Point Unit 2 in New York until the agency has issued a “reasoned decision” on an emergency petition previously submitted to the agency by Friends of the Earth.

Entergy Nuclear Operations, the operator of Indian Point, has not publicly released a date on which Unit 2 will restart, said the writ request. “Absent relief from this Court, however, Unit 2 is expected to restart within a matter of days,” it added. “To preserve the status quo while the Court considers this Petition, Petitioners additionally request an immediate order directing the NRC to submit any response to this Petition within ten days; directing Petitioners to submit a reply within five days thereafter; and directing the NRC to prevent restart of Unit 2 until the Court finally adjudicates this Petition. In the event Unit 2 has been restarted prior to a decision on this Petition, Petitioners request an order directing NRC to compel Entergy to power down Unit 2.”

The court filing said that on March 29, 2016, Entergy discovered that over one in four of the stainless steel bolts holding together a crucial structure surrounding the nuclear reactor core in Unit 2 of the plant were degraded or missing entirely. It added that Entergy later discovered that more bolts than previously thought needed replacement, bringing the total to 278, or just over one in three.

The writ request added: “Failure of the bolts, called ‘baffle-former bolts’ (referred to here as simply ‘bolts’), could cause separation of metal plates on the interior of the reactor core, depriving the core of necessary cooling water and potentially resulting in a catastrophic nuclear meltdown. The regulator’s response so far to this increased risk to public health and safety is to allow Entergy, the licensee and regulated party, free rein to decide whether and to what extent it should analyze the cause of the failure, and to determine when, in Entergy’s opinion, Unit 2 is safe to restart.

“To remedy this lapse in regulatory oversight in the face of a major failure affecting the safety of operating Indian Point, on May 23, 2016, Friends of the Earth (‘Friends’) filed an emergency petition requesting the Commission to, inter cilia, prohibit the restart of Unit 2 until the Commission is satisfied that the unit can be safely restarted and operated.

“Friends also requested that the Commission grant interim relief by preventing restart of Unit 2 until the Emergency Petition is finally adjudicated. Entergy has stated that it intends to restart Unit 2 within a matter of days.

“On June 3, 2016, the enforcement division of the Commission Staff sent an email to Friends’ counsel informing Friends that a Staff Petition Review Board (PRB), not the Commissioners, were commencing review of the Emergency Petition under the process established by [federal regulations], a process that typically takes years to conclude. The PRB noted that “[a]fter thorough review and discussion,” it was denying Friends’ ‘request for immediate action.’ The PRB had determined, the email said, that the current condition of the bolts did not present an immediate safety risk at Indian Point, and that they would therefore proceed with the usual time-consuming process afforded to petitions under section 2.206. The email offered no rationale or evidence in support of its safety claim—none. It is therefore plainly insufficient to satisfy the foundational principle of administrative law that an agency must provide a reasoned justification for its decisions.”

Indian Point is a two-unit, 2,000-MW nuclear station located in Buchanan, New York, approximately 26 miles north of Times Square in New York City and within 50 miles of more than 17 million people, the petition noted.

This is not the only concern raised about this issue, with another expressed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). “This afternoon, the state learned that hundreds of faulty bolts were discovered within the reactor at the Indian Point Unit 2 Plant,” Cuomo said in a recent statement posted on his website. “This is the latest in a long series of incidents that raise deep concerns about the management, maintenance and equipment standards at this plant.”

Entergy reported March 29 that during the ongoing refueling outage, inspections had turned up “issues” with about 11% of the reactor liner bolts at Unit 2. As a result, additional maintenance work is expected to extend the maintenance and refueling outage by several weeks. Issues were identified on bolts on the face of the removable liner, not on bolts along the liner’s edges. Engineers identified missing bolts, and bars meant to hold them in place, and other degradation requiring replacement of the bolts. Each bolt, about two inches long and made of stainless steel, holds plate inserts together inside the reactor, Entergy said.

Indian Point Unit 2’s “Aging Management Program” – implemented in connection with license renewal – calls for an in-depth inspection of the reactor vessel every ten years. The first such inspection took place during a scheduled refueling and maintenance outage that began March 7, and used visual and where possible, ultrasonic inspections.

Said the May 6 Form 10-Q filing by Entergy Corp. (NYSE: ETR) with the Securities and Exchange Commission: “During the scheduled refueling and maintenance outage at Indian Point Unit 2 in the first quarter 2016, comprehensive inspections were done as part of the aging management program which calls for an in-depth inspection of the reactor vessel. Inspections of more than 2,000 bolts in the reactor’s removable insert liner identified issues with roughly 11% of the bolts that required further analysis. Entergy is replacing the bolts as necessary and expects that the replacement effort will extend the outage into June 2016 and increase costs associated with the outage. The additional costs will be accounted for as deferred refueling outage costs and amortized over the plant’s subsequent fuel cycle. The increase in the deferred refueling outage balance is expected to increase outage amortization expense in 2016, 2017, and 2018. In addition to the higher costs, Entergy will lose net revenue due to the plant being offline. Entergy estimates the negative effect on earnings to be approximately $60 million pre-tax during 2016. This estimate is subject to change depending upon final costs incurred, the restart date of the plant, and prices that would have been received for the sale of Indian Point 2’s power.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.