An environmental watchdog group filed an emergency petition with federal regulators Tuesday calling for one of the reactors at a nuclear plant 15 miles from North Jersey to remain closed and to shut the other reactor because of concerns about degraded bolts that are key to the facility's safe operation.
At issue are more than 800 bolts on a baffle liner, which helps control the flow of cooling water to the nuclear fuel in the Unit 2 reactor at Indian Point. Entergy, which owns the facility in New York State, found problems with 277 of the baffle bolts during a March inspection. The company has replaced the bolts and plans to have the unit back in operation by next month, in time for rising summer electric demands.
The watchdog group Friends of the Earth said in its petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday that the agency should not let Entergy restart the unit until it submits a report that explains why the bolts suffered degradation and that the replaced bolts will ensure the unit's safe operation. The group also wants the agency to force Entergy to immediately shut down another reactor unit at the site, called Unit 3, to ensure that the same problem with bolts isn't happening there. Entergy had planned a 2019 inspection of Unit 3 but has pushed that up to 2017 after discovering the bolt problem in Unit 2.
"A potentially quite dangerous piece of machinery is broken," said Damon Moglen, a senior strategic adviser at Friends of the Earth. The bolt issue "could lead to the failure of the unit's cooling system and a meltdown of the reactor core, sending a plume of radioactivity toward millions of people."
Richard Ayres, a lawyer representing the watchdog group, said that a meltdown could "render the nation's largest city uninhabitable. The bolts in Unit 2 were failing at a rate we've never seen before in the nuclear industry."
When an emergency petition is submitted from the public, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission forms a review board to determine if the petition requires immediate action, said agency spokesman Neil Sheehan. If the board decides no immediate action is required, it will continue to review the petition to see if the issues raised need to be addressed.
Entergy finished replacing the affected baffle bolts over the past weekend, and replaced an additional 50 as a precaution to ensure the unit's integrity, Sheehan said. Entergy must submit a report to the agency on the repairs before it will allow the company to restart Unit 2.
He said Unit 3 has not had as many operating cycles as Unit 2, and its bolts would therefore not be as susceptible to degradation. Entergy has also said that Unit 3 underwent a modification several years ago that likely reduced the wear on its baffle bolts.
The degradation of baffle bolts is not limited to the Indian Point facility, but the extent of affected bolts is unique, Sheehan said.
The facility has been a concern of North Jersey officials because Bergen and Passaic counties sit just outside the plant's federally designated 10-mile evacuation zone.
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