UPDATE:Sunday night, an expert in design, construction and failsafe systems of nuclear plants said the possibility of a “meltdown,” resulting from a plane crash into the Indian Point domes is highly unlikely. On Monday afternoon, County Executive Andy Spano confirmed our expert’s confidence, telling news media Entergy had assured him the plant was safe and confirming our independent expert’s assessment of plant safeguards. Both County Legislature District 5 Candidates called for a shutdown of the Indian Point facility.
A recent news report speculated about Indian Point melting down if its dome or domes were hit by a jumbo jet. WPCNR wanted to know Sunday, if this was a strong possibility. One man who has supervised construction of modern nuclear facilities says it is not. Monday afternoon, County Executive Andrew Spano also confirmed, in part, what our expert said about Indian Point safety.
Chernobyl and Indian Point cannot be compared.
A veteran consultant and professional builder of nuclear plants to current NRC standards, most recently in North Carolina, spoke to WPCNR Sunday evening. He was flabbergasted by the premise of the article. The WPCNR nuclear expert whom we will call “Bill,” said comparing the Chernobyl meltdown to Indian Point was not a fair comparison.
First, Bill said the Chernobyl meltdown disaster occurred when the controllers “lost control of the chain reaction, and literally ran out of the plant.” He said there were no remote back-up systems in place at the Chernobyl plant to shut off the reaction.
There are back-up systems at Indian Point and all United States plants. He attributed the Chernobyl accident to human error without a recourse, which caused the destructive meltdown and massive radiation cloud.
U.S. Plant Backup Systems Stop the Reactor.
“You simply cannot compare a Russian-built nuclear plant with a United States plant,” He said.
“As a result of the Three Mile Island incident alone, in the 1980s, American nuclear plants were directed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to install ‘redundant instrumentation,’ in distinctly separate areas of the complex which consists of auxiliary control panels of all systems.”
This is designed, he says, to prevent exactly what happened at Chernobyl. If Indian Point were to be hit by a plane, even two planes, the redundant system can shut down the reactor immediately. Yet, even in that case, release of radiation is highly unlikely.
Could a Plane Hit Cause a Meltdown?
WPCNR asked Bill if a plane penetrated a dome, whether this could cause radioactive steam to escape. Bill said that even after a dome hit, any resulting explosion would need to penetrate the reactor to release any radiation.
The reactor in the typical Westinghouse Plant (such as Indian Point 2 and 3) is encased in an additional 18 inches of stainless stee, Bill says. This steel would have to be penetrated by the plane wreckage and fire, to release any radiation. Bill feels this is extremely unlikely.
“You have to realize that the reactor casing is built to withstand rigid forces generated by major earthquakes by law. Should a plane penetrate the dome, it is unlikely it will generate enough impact or explosive force to penetrate the reactor. A plane is not an earthquake. What caused the WTC towers to collapse was driving a plane into a spider web of construction not a reinforced dome.”
(WPCNR advises readers the fire from the jet fuel released in the crashes could not be extinguished, causing the interior steel supports of the towers to melt after approximately one hour of uncontrolled burning and heat)
Bill indicated that U.S. nuclear plants have fire-extinguishing procedures to handle such a scenario.
Could a jumbo jet penetrate the dome?
Bill said the domes (of typical Westinghouse plants) are constructed of approximately 2 to 3 feet of concrete and are lined on the interior with 1” steel plate.
“The domes are designed to withstand a 2,700 pound projectile (the size of a Volkswagon), comparable to artillery shells that penetrate bunkers. The domes are calculated to withstand the impact of a 747. They have crashed smaller planes into them in tests and they have held.”
How about the radioactive fuel dumps?
We asked if a jet fuel fire might release radiation by penetrating the fuel and igniting it. (This scenario envisioned by the recent media article was depicted by a nuclear consultant in that article)
Bill said, “the radioactive spent fuel is in a protected building itself. It is housed in a concrete-and-steel-lined protected building and under several feet of water. The spent fuel is quite separate from the domes housing the four steam generators and one reactor (typical of Westinghouse plants, Bill reports). Should the plane penetrate the spent fuel storage dump, and jet fuel ignites, the jet fuel sits on top of the water. It cannot reach the spent radioactive fuel.”
He said the scenarios of fires of many kinds are covered in the Final Safety Analysis Report, which has to be signed off by the Nuclear Regulation Commission, and the plant operator before the plant is put online. They cannot go online without it, Bill says.
As to fuel fires, “You can put out fuel fires with foam, and water in these instances. The water uses up the oxygen. I’ve done it.”
Expert chides uninformed media article
Asked about the hypothesis generated by the article, Bill’s reaction was “The article comes within 3 degrees of yellow journalism. This person has done major damage with this. Why didn’t he call the utility?”
It should be noted that WPCNR has been unable to confirm Bill’s generalized comments about Westinghouse manufactured plants, and Bill believes Indian Point 2 and 3 are Westinghouse plants.
However, Bill has been responsible for the construction and commissioning of nuclear plants and should know his stuff. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission construction specifications are required in all American nuclear plants.
Shutting down would cause a scramble to power Westchester
We asked Bill what the impact of shutting Indian Point 2 and 3 would have on the New York area. Bill guessed that Indian Point 2 & 3 generated about 900 megawatts each, 1800 megawatts in all, a major percentage of the Westchester area electricity, requiring Entergy (owners of the plant)to find some other source quickly if the plant were to shut down.
Our nuclear plant builder is correct in his assumption. According to information we received Tuesday from George Oros, County Legislator for the Town of Cortlandt & Peekskill, Indian Point provides 20% of New York State’s electricity.
The plant also contributes 1% of Westchester County property taxes, ($3-1/2 million) 25% of Cortlandt’s property taxes and 40 to 50% of the Town of Cortlandt Henry Hudson School District school tax. It employs 3,000 persons.
Ryan, Corcoran call for closing of the Indian Point plant
On Monday evening, County Legislator Bill Ryan and Candyce Canelstein Corcoran in the County District 5 Legislator race both called for closing of the Indian Point facility in personal appearances at the Scarsdale Neighborhood Association Presidents meeting.
Ryan said he was for closing the plant, but alternative electric sources had to be found before that could be done, saying it was up to the federal government to direct alternative electronic “buys” perhaps with a Canadian supplier.
Corcoran suggested the plant should be closed, and suggested other sources of electric generation be investigated such as
hydroelectric, windturbines,GEO thermal, methanol.
Spano leaning towards closing
Ryan, in a WPCNR interview afterward said County Executive Andy Spano was leaning towards closing the facility if alternative energy sources could be found to take up the electric supply shortfall. The County Legislator also said he expected any shutdown of Indian Point to take quite some time to execute, but had no details.
County Exec says plant safe, confirming WPCNR’s expert.
In a news release Monday, County Executive Andrew Spano indirectly confirmed what WPCNR’s nuclear expert told us Sunday evening. In a statement released to the media, Mr. Spano stated:
We are in constant communication with Entergy, the operators of the plant. As is required by federal law, Entergy has a well-trained and equipped security force that is prepared to defend against an attack on the plant. While this security force at the plant is not visible to the general public, it is there and on high alert.
Mr. Spano confirmed heigtened security procedures and dismissed nuclear critics’ claims:
The Indian Point plants have passed their NRC-administered anti-intrusion security inspections and tests. Claims to the contrary made by nuclear critics are untrue. Additional security measures at Indian Point include increased surveillance activities and additional restrictions on people and deliveries.
Spano confirms WPCNR nuclear engineer’s report that dome can handle a plane hit:
Mr. Spano addressed the strength of the dome thusly:According to Entergy, the dome-shaped containment buildings at Indian Point are among the strongest structures in the world, designed specifically to withstand tremendous pressure. Studies have shown that nuclear plant containment structures can survive direct crashes of an airplane.
Spano also confirms our engineer’s comment on the reactor protection
The County Executive continued: In addition to the protection provided by the containment building, the reactor itself is enclosed in an additional structure of steel and concrete and sits down low in the containment building, providing further protection.
Spano says NRC coordinating with Feds
He assures us: The NRC has also advised me that they are working around the clock to coordinate with the FBI, other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the military and state authorities to provide additional safety measures that may be implemented not only at Indian Point but also at all nuclear power plants in the country. You may be aware that this last weekend, the National Guard was ordered to the Plants.
Coast Guard also beefed up, Spano says:
He reports: With the assistance of Rep. Nita Lowey, the presence of the Coast Guard, which was already there taking up protective positions in the Hudson, is being beefed up.
Indian Point no-fly zone enforcement:
County Legislator in his appearance at SNAP told the Scarsdale citizens that Indian Point is a no fly zone which is enforced 24 hours a day by jet fighter aircraft on standby. Ryan explained aircraft are given coordinates by the FAA Air Traffic Control they must fly when bypassing the plant.
If Intruder aircraft deviate from those coordinates, the air force scrambles a jet, and if the aircraft does not comply, the fighter pilots demand they fly to a specified coordinate or by shot down.
Coasties guard shorefront for 900 feet
Ryan also said Coast Guard patrols enforce a no-sail zone within a 900 yard semi-circle extending out from the shores of the Indian Point complex. Large ships and small craft, traveling up river are subject to boarding and searching, he said.