One of the reactors at the Indian Point nuclear power plant automatically shut down Wednesday morning. It’s the same reactor that was offline two other times in recent months for different reasons. Meanwhile, the relicensing schedule for the Westchester County plant has been pushed back again.
Jerry Nappi, spokesman for Indian Point parent Entergy, addresses why Indian Point 2 automatically shut down.
“Unit 2 shut down automatically and safely as workers were doing some testing on a system that’s designed actually to shut the reactor down,” Nappi says.
He says plant officials are looking into why this occurred. Nappi says the reactor should be back online within a day or two. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Spokesman Neil Sheehan further explains the automatic shutdown that occurred as plant technicians were preparing to test the reactor protection system — an electrical system that detects any anomalies in the plant.
“They were putting in place some equipment that would allow them to do this without disrupting plant operations,” says Sheehan. “However, as a result of this preparatory work that was going on they inadvertently led to a trip of the reactor. They turned a switch that they should not have at that stage which led to a trip of the reactor.”
He says it was human error.
“They have procedures that they are supposed to carry out when they are preparing to do this kind of testing. In this case, they failed to follow the necessary steps and this led to the reactor tripping, as it’s designed,” says Sheehan. “It was an uncomplicated shutdown but, nevertheless, the company now needs to evaluate exactly why these steps were missed.”
He says the workers involved would undergo retraining. It’s Unit 2’s third shutdown since March, when there was a planned shutdown for a scheduled $120 million refueling outage and inspection and upgrade of plant equipment and systems. It was during this shutdown that a baffle bolt issue was uncovered. Unit 2 was returned to service June 16. Unit 2 was then shut down June 24 to complete weld repairs to a pipe and to allow workers from Con Edison to test a breaker in a switchyard located near Indian Point. Unit 2 was returned online June 27. Cliff Weathers is spokesman for Riverkeeper, which has long called for the closure of Indian Point.
“This is the third time in a month that this particular reactor has been down. And in the last year between the two reactors there’s been nine unplanned shutdowns,” says Weathers. “You cannot say that this happened seven years ago because it didn’t. It didn’t happen five years ago. This is happening now because this is an aging nuclear plant that is becoming more problematic as it ages. We need to shut this plant down and this is just more evidence of that.”
This latest shutdown comes as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the state Department of Public Service to closely monitor statewide energy usage this week due to high temperatures and humidity. As part of these monitoring efforts, Cuomo also directed the Department to investigate the cause of the shutdown of Indian Point 2, which was not heat-related. It’s a call Cuomo has made following previous shutdowns.
Meanwhile, the NRC’s Sheehan says this latest shutdown is an operational issue and would not play into the relicensing process for Buchanan-based Indian Point. He says the focus for relicensing is on aging management impacts on plant safety systems, structures and components. The relicensing process for both reactors began in 2007, notes Sheehan, when Entergy submitted its application.
“The previous schedule called for our issuance of a second supplement to our environmental impact statement to take place in September,” says Sheehan. “However, after we issued a draft version of this second supplement last December, we received so many public comments that the staff needs more time to address those so that we are now indicating that it will probably be January when we’ll issue this second supplement.”
January of 2017. He adds:
“We said this before but, because of the numerous issues that have been raised, this is, by far, the longest license renewal review for any plant in the U.S.,” Sheehan says.
Nappi says Indian Point 3 has been operating for 200 consecutive days. Both reactors supply about 25 percent of power for New York City and the lower Hudson Valley. That’s 2,000 megawatts for 2 million homes.