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Sci Tech    H3'ed 1/13/17

Shutdown of Indian Point and Experiences of Engineer 30 Years in Nuclear Industry

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The good--the very good--energy news is that the Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City will be closed in the next few years under an agreement reached between New York State and the plants' owner, Entergy.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has long been calling for the plants to be shut down because, as the New York Times related in its story on the pact, they pose "too great a risk to New York City." Environmental and safe-energy organizations have been highly active for decades in working for the shutdown of the plants. Under the agreement, one Indian Point plant will shut down by April 2020, the second by April 2021.

They would be among the many nuclear power plants in the U.S. which their owners have in recent years decided to close or have announced will be shut down in a few years.

This comes in the face of nuclear power plant accidents--the most recent the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan--and competitive power being less expensive including renewable and safe solar and wind energy.

Last year the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska closed following the shutdowns of Kewanee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Crystal River 3 in Florida and both San Onofre 2 and 3 in California. Nuclear plant operators say they will close Palisades in Michigan next year and then Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Pilgrim in Massachusetts in 2019 and California's Diablo Canyon 1 in 2024 and Diablo Canyon 3 in 2025.

This brings the number of nuclear plants down to a few more than 90--a far cry from President Richard Nixon's scheme to have 1,000 nuclear plants in the U.S. by the year 2000.

But the bad--the very bad--energy news is that there are still many promoters of nuclear power in industry and government still pushing and, most importantly, the transition team of incoming President Donald Trump has been "asking for ways to keep nuclear power alive," as Bloomberg news reported last month. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-09/trump-s-team-is-asking-for-ways-u-s-can-keep-nuclear-alive

As I was reading last week the first reports on the Indian Point agreement, I received a phone call from an engineer who has been in the nuclear industry for more than 30 years--with his view of the situation.

The engineer, employed at nuclear plants and for a major nuclear plant manufacturer, wanted to relate that even with the Indian Point news--"and I'd keep my fingers crossed that there is no disaster involving those aged Indian Point plants in those next three or four years"--nuclear power remains a "ticking time bomb." Concerned about retaliation, he asked his name not be published.

Here is some of the information he passed on--a story of experiences of an engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than three decades and his warnings and expectations.

THE SECRETIVE INPO REPORT SYSTEM

Several months after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in March 1979, the nuclear industry set up the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) based in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea was to have a nuclear industry group that "would share information" on problems and incidents at nuclear power plants, he said.

If there is a problem at one nuclear power plant, through an INPO report it is communicated to other nuclear plant operators. Thus the various plant operators could "cross-reference" happenings at other plants and determine if they might apply to them.

The reports are "coded by color," explained the engineer. Those which are "green" involve an incident or condition that might or might not indicate a wider problem. A "yellow" report is on an occurrence "that could cause significant problems down the road." A "red" report is the most serious and represents "a problem that could have led to a core meltdown"--and could be present widely among nuclear plants and for which action needs to be taken immediately.

The engineer said he has read more than 100 "Code Red" reports. What they reflect, he said, is that "we've been very, very lucky so far!"

If the general public would see these "red" reports, its view on nuclear power would turn strongly negative, said the engineer.

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Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and host of the nationally syndicated TV program Enviro Close-Up.
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