NRC Wants Indian Point To Fully Resolve Water Leaks

Nov 13, 2017

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently released its third-quarter inspection report for the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The Westchester County-based plant has experienced o-ring leakage on and off for years, and the NRC says efforts to resolve the issue have not been entirely successful.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan says the issue has persisted for many years, at both Units 2 and 3.

“They had a design change going back to 2003 where the company has tried to resolve this problem,” Sheehan says. “This involves these o-rings that are stainless steel gaskets, very large in size. They are big enough to maintain a tight seal between the reactor vessel head and the reactor vessel itself and, not only do that but, do it under very high temperature and pressure conditions.”

In fact, Indian Point 3 was shut down in June 2017 for planned maintenance to replace two o-rings, or water seals. Again, Sheehan.

“When they started up from the last Unit 3 last refueling outage last spring, they started to see a steady increase in unidentified leakage within the containment building,” Sheehan says. “And so they’ve had to switch from the inner o-ring to the outer o-ring, which is, that’s not a normal operating condition. And so that’s one example of why this continues to garner some interest.”

Jerry Nappi is spokesman for Indian Point parent company Entergy.

“This is an issue that we’ve had recur a few times. We have a plan in place to try and prevent recurrence,” Nappi says. “I mean, I think one thing folks should know is that this leak of water is entirely contained with inside the reactor building. It’s a relatively small leak. There actually is no leak ongoing at this time. There’s two sets of seals to prevent leakage.”

That plan to prevent recurrence, as outlined in the NRC’s quarterly inspection report, includes conducting laser measurement and mapping of the surface defects during the next refueling outage on each unit.

“We have a few new enhancements we’re going to make where I think more closer measurements of the groove in which the seal sits. Engineers are going to update procedures to make sure there’s more adherence to the procedures as they replace these seals periodically,” says Nappi. “And we’re going to ultimately just continue to monitor the situation closely. There’s no safety challenge from this very small leakage and, again, that water is contained inside the building.”

That’s not assuring to Richard Webster. He’s legal director for Riverkeeper.

“It’s a big concern for us that this o-ring problem isn’t being solved It seems like Entergy is trying to ignore the problem rather than solve it,” Webster says. “And it looks like production pressures are leading them to rush the repairs so that they don’t really work. And so we think that what they should do is take the time, take an outage and really try and fix the problem.”

And Webster comments on Entergy’s plan to prevent leakage recurrence.

“It’s certainly too late,” says Webster. “Time will tell whether it’s too little.”

Indian Point is closing by 2021, an agreement reached by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Entergy and Riverkeeper announced in January. Meantime, the NRC’s Sheehan says there have been no violations related to the water leaks from o-rings.

“They have a limit as far as how much leakage they can get from the reactor vessel, and they have not exceeded that, at this point. But, nevertheless, this is an issue that they would obviously like to see put to bed and that we would like to see them fully resolve,” says Sheehan. “And so, we’re pointing out in our quarterly inspection report that this is an issue that warrants continued attention and it’s going to be an area that continues to receive follow up from the NRC.”

Sheehan says the NRC has seen o-ring leakage at other plants but not to the extent as at Buchanan-based Indian Point.