Leak at Indian Point Causes Surge in Groundwater Radiation Levels

Radioactive material has leaked into the groundwater below Indian Point nuclear power plant, prompting federal and state investigations, as well as condemnation from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Indian Point is located in Westchester County, approximately 25 miles north of New York City.

Indian Point is located on the Hudson River, just 25 miles north of New York City. Photo via Google Maps.

According to a statement from Cuomo on February 6th, three monitoring wells at the nuclear facility detected the radioactive material tritium in groundwater. In one of those wells, radioactivity had increased almost 65,000%, which Cuomo referred to as “alarming levels.”

Cuomo also criticized the plant’s owner, the Entergy Corporation, and ordered full investigations at the state level:

This latest failure at Indian Point is unacceptable and I have directed Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to fully investigate this incident and employ all available measures, including working with Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to determine the extent of the release, its likely duration, cause and potential impacts to the environment and public health.

Workers remove a piece of equipment in the spent fuel pool of Unit 3, at the Indian Point Energy Center. Photo credit: Mark Vergari/The Journal News

Entergy has stressed that there are no health or safety consequences to the public, saying on Saturday that:

While elevated tritium in the ground onsite is not in accordance with our standards, there is no health or safety consequence to the public, and releases are more than a thousand times below federal permissible limits. The tritium did not affect any source of drinking water onsite or offsite.

Jerry Nappi, a spokesperson for Entergy, told media outlets that the radioactive water “likely reached the ground at Indian Point during recent work activities.”

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, repeated claims that groundwater contamination at the plant did not pose a threat to public health or to employees. However, The New York Times reports that the agency would “review the recent tritium leakage incident” and study Entergy’s response.

A Familiar Alarm

The exterior of Indian Point 2 at the Indian Point Energy Center. Photo credit: Mark Vergari/The Journal News

The problems at Indian Point nuclear facility have a familiar refrain. The aging plant continues to experience challenges like flooding and fires, and in 2015, Indian Point experienced more accidents and temporary shutdowns than it had in almost six years.

This fact has not been lost on Governor Cuomo, who has repeatedly called for a permanent shutdown. In his statement on Saturday, Cuomo said:

This is not the first such release of radioactive water at Indian Point, nor is this the first time that Indian Point has experienced significant failure in its operation and maintenance. This failure continues to demonstrate that Indian Point cannot continue to operate in a manner that is protective of public health and the environment.

And yet, Indian Point remains a complicated but key component of New York’s energy supply. By Entergy’s own estimates, the plant provides about 25% of the electricity supplied to New York City and Westchester County and generates $1.6 billion for the state economy.

Fear and Reliance: The Ongoing Saga Of Indian Point

It has been a record year for the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant 25 miles north of New York City on the banks of the Hudson River. Run by Louisiana-based operator Entergy, the Westchester plant has been a longstanding thorn in the sides of environmentalists and the State. This year, Indian Point has experienced more accidents and temporary shutdowns than it has in almost six years.

Indian Point’s significance is hard to discount. The plant supplies roughly a quarter of New York City’s electricity without emitting any greenhouse gases. But there is a disconcerting lack of consensus regarding the physical safety of the aging plant.

In May, a transformer explosion at Indian Point accidentally led to an inch of flooding in reactor #3’s switchgear room, located in the basement of the reactor’s control building. According to a nuclear safety expert interviewed for this story, five or more inches of water in the switchgear room would disable the electrical system which guarantees that the reactor’s nuclear core remains safely cool.

And if the cooling system’s 8 hours of back-up battery power ran out after the electrical system failed, this would help set the stage for a core meltdown.

Indian Point spokesman Jerry Nappi told us flatly that the electrical equipment in the switchgear room of reactor #3 was never at risk from the inch of flooding after the May 9th fire. But, he noted, “we have taken aggressive steps to ensure it does not occur again.”

Nonetheless, Governor Cuomo renewed his call to permanently shut down the plant. And the benefits the plant provides continue to be weighed against the arguably massive peril it poses both to the environment as well as to the safety of the metro region.

Describing the plant as “inherently problematic” after the transformer fire, Cuomo stated that “you do not have a nuclear plant in as dense a populated area anywhere else on the globe—it’s literally about 20 miles from New York City.”

cuomo indian point
Governor Cuomo speaks to reporters near the main entrance of Indian Point on May 9th after a transformer failed and caused a fire at reactor unit 3. The fire was extinguished and the unit shut down automatically according to the plant’s operator, Entergy. Credit: Associated Press/Craig Ruttle

“If something goes wrong at Indian Point, it goes seriously wrong and it affects a lot of people, so I’m very, very careful when it comes to Indian Point,” the Governor added.

A significant source of power (and jobs)

Indian Point is a key contributor to New York State’s energy requirements. In 2014, the plant’s two reactors produced 12% of the total electricity generated in New York, according to the New York Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s transmission network and wholesale electricity markets.

Owing to their low fuel costs, these reactors run at full capacity through the year, generating more than 2000 MW during the day — enough to power about two million homes.

[As a point of reference, the average amount of electricity used in New York State typically ranges between 17,000 to 19,000 MW in a one hour period. “Peak” usage loads, during heat waves and cold snaps, are significantly higher, ranging from about 29,000 to as much as 35,000 MW over the course of an hour. New York City accounted for roughly a third of the state’s energy usage in 2014.]

For the state to meet power reliability requirements, “replacement resources have to be in place prior to a closure of the Indian Point Energy Center,” said NYISO spokesperson, Ken Klapp. A NYISO report from July this year estimates that, if the plant were to close, at least 500 MW of additional power would have to be produced just to provide adequate energy to southeast New York.

By Entergy’s own estimates, the plant provides about 25% of the electricity supplied to New York City and Westchester County. According to company spokesperson Patricia Kakridas, the plant employs about 1,000 workers, who account for more than $140 million in annual payroll, and it supports more than 9,000 additional jobs across the state. Overall, Indian Point generates $1.6 billion for the state economy, pays another $340 million in local, state and federal taxes and contributes over $1 million in annual charitable contributions.

Nuclear power: a key part of the state’s energy mix

Nuclear power will play an important role in New York for the foreseeable future. In addition to Indian Point, New York has three other nuclear power plants, all located in the western part of the state. Almost a third of the electricity generated in New York State in 2014 came from nuclear power.

At the same time, New York’s energy mix is shifting. The use of coal and oil for power generation continues to decline, and the use of renewables -especially wind and solar- is growing. But so is the state’s use of natural gas, much to the consternation of many environmentalists.

Natural gas, while not renewable, is arguably “cleaner” than coal and relatively affordable. Gas’ role in power generation has increased significantly in the last 15 years. Last year, gas/oil and gas powered plants supplied 41% of the state’s electricity.

Interestingly, the Cuomo administration’s recently released 2015 Energy Plan makes barely any mention of nuclear energy. The Governor, who lives a half-hour from Indian Point, has been a staunch opponent of the plant. Cuomo’s broad vision document lays emphasis on “clean, affordable and renewable” sources of energy, and increased efficiency in transmission and distribution.

“A closer call than anybody would have liked.”

Citizens groups, elected officials and others have raised a wide range of safety concerns about Indian Point over the years. But it is the inch of flooding in reactor unit 3’s switchgear room after May’s transformer explosion that is particularly worrying -and frustrating- to nuclear safety specialist David Lochbaum.

Lochbaum directs a nuclear safety program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, and is about to release a white paper on May’s explosion and flooding. It was “a closer call than anybody would have liked,” he observed.

Lochbaum said that the transformer explosion triggered the release of water from emergency valves. But once released, the water did not drain properly because of clogged floor drains.

Layout of Indian Point Energy Center. Source: Power Authority of the State of New York Preliminary Safety Analysis Report, April 26, 1967

“It keeps being a problem,” Lochbaum added. The plant’s switchgear rooms are vulnerable to flooding from various sources- they house both fire protection and cooling water pipes. Hurricane Irene caused flooding in one of reactor unit 2’s switchgear rooms, which was exacerbated by a clogged drain.

Lochbaum, who worked in the industry for 17 years and trained safety inspectors as a Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff member, points out that flooding in the switchgear rooms at the Daiichi Plant in Fukushima, Japan is what ultimately led to the failure of the plant’s electrical system, the core meltdown of the plant’s three reactors, and a catastrophic radiation release in 2011.

“They [Entergy] keep finding that the floor drains are clogged and partially blocked and not draining as well as they should. They keep identifying ways to better manage that flooding hazard but nothing ever seems to get fixed,” Lochbaum said.

Indian Point spokesman Jerry Nappi challenged Lochbaum’s assertion that the condition of the drains poses a serious threat. He stated that an engineering analysis conducted by Entergy showed that the “drains inside the building housing electrical equipment remove water [released by the sprinkler systems] at a rate quick enough to ensure water will never rise to a level that would impact the electrical equipment. This is the case now as well as the case during the May transformer fire.”

The accident in May led to a visit from a Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspection team. NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci said that Entergy was taking “appropriate interim and long term actions,” including inspections and clearing drains, to address the drainage problem. The NRC will continue to follow the issue, she said.

Sprinklers are one thing, but what if the switchgear rooms flooded more rapidly, such as in the event of a hurricane?

Screnci said that in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, the NRC initiated a process in which every nuclear power plant in the country reevaluated its risk from flooding. The NRC is working with plants to determine whether they are properly protected, she said. Indian Point is in the middle of this process.

David Lochbaum is not satisfied with the pace of action at Indian Point. The NRC has documented flooding issues at the plant over several years, he said. “The best reason for the failure to address this problem is that they keep having flooding problems about every two years yet they [the problems] don’t lead to dire consequences,” he observed.

In its 2007 re-licensing application, Entergy even considered installing a flood alarm system for the switchgear rooms in both of Indian Point’s reactors, which would alert personnel immediately if there was a problem. This would be a huge step forward, said Lochbaum.

“There’s clearly a hazard,” he stated. Elevating the electrical equipment would be very expensive, Lochbaum explained, and complicated by the fact that the equipment must also be secured against potential earthquakes. “The best way to manage it is to make sure that room doesn’t flood to more than five inches.”

Nappi said that Entergy is still considering installing a flood alarm system, which admittedly could not fully protect against an electrical system failure, but would lower the risk of such an incident. The total cost would be roughly $4 million, said Lochbaum, which he argues is pennies per each area resident who might be affected by a core meltdown.

Assessing the risk posed by Indian Point

A 2011 report, commissioned by Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council, attempted to gauge the impact of such a meltdown. It estimated that 5.6 million metro area residents would need to be evacuated or sheltered if just one of Indian Point’s reactors had a core meltdown similar in scale to what occurred in Fukushima.

The resulting radioactive plume, the report said, would put area residents at greater risk of cancer and genetic damage, and could contaminate a swathe of land from Northern Westchester to the George Washington Bridge to uninhabitable levels.

Riverkeeper, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, has been actively involved in challenging Entergy’s application for renewing its operating licenses. The plant has two operating reactors- unit 2 and unit 3. The license for unit 2 expired in 2013 and unit 3’s license is due to expire in December.

Unit 3 has experienced four unplanned shutdowns so far this year, which is not typical, said Jerry Nappi. Overall reliability at both units has increased significantly over time, he said. Unit 2 has now been online for 568 continuous days.

Nappi maintained that the shutdowns should not be seen as safety issues or accidents. They were caused by various factors, such as equipment or grid connection problems, and are not due to the age of the plant, he stressed. During each shutdown, “equipment operated as designed and control room operators responded as expected,” Nappi added.

Other issues, including May’s transformer explosion (which also caused an oil leak into the Hudson), as well as a breaker failure in June, and spent fuel pools which are near capacity, are more clearly problematic. They all “add up to an unacceptable risk of the biggest disaster that the New York metro area could ever see,” argued Riverkeeper president Paul Gallay.

Is there a broader explanation for the unplanned shutdowns and other recent problems at Indian Point? “The most common thread…seems to be aging,” David Lochbaum observed.

There is a troubling gulf at times between the concerns raised by watchdog groups and numerous elected officials, and the stance of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission- the agency tasked with regulating the nuclear power industry. The NRC has conducted over 33,000 hours of inspections and reviews in the last eight years at Indian Point and deemed it safe for operation. The agency has given the plant its highest safety rating for the last five years.

Gallay cited the various fire safety exemptions granted by the NRC to the plant. (“They have fire safety exemptions that you and I couldn’t get for our home,” he said.)

These exemptions are not plant-wide; rather they apply to specific rooms and areas. Some are granted if the plant operator agrees to find workaround solutions to an issue such as assigning extra manpower in case of a fire. In one instance, despite a requirement that its power cables must be insulated to withstand fire for an hour, Indian Point received an exemption permitting cables that are only insulated against fire for 24 minutes. These exemptions recently became the basis for legal action against the plant.

However, NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan said such exemptions are not uncommon. “Almost every plant in the country has received some or the other exemption,” he said.

New York State Assembly member Richard Brodsky has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to force Indian Point to shutdown or overhaul its safety standards. A group of New York City Council members lent their support to the case last month.

The plant is also at risk from earthquakes. In 2010, the NRC modeled the chances of catastrophic failure due to a seismic event and one of Indian Point’s two reactors, unit 3, was found to be at highest risk in the country compared to any other nuclear plant. Unit 3 has a 1 in 10,000 chance each year of core damage from an earthquake.

The NRC’s model takes two main factors into consideration: the chance of a serious quake, and the strength of design of the plant. David Lochbaum said he believed that Entergy is gradually working to address the earthquake hazard at the plant.

Like the NRC, Entergy insists that the plant is fundamentally secure. “Indian Point is safe and we have a proven commitment to make investments to assure safety,” said spokesperson Patricia Kakridas. According to her, the company has invested more than $1 billion over the last decade on security and safety.

Environmental impact that cuts both ways

Besides safety concerns, Indian Point has a direct environmental impact. The plant draws around 2.4 billion gallons of water from the Hudson River each day to cool its reactors and discharges it at a slightly higher temperature (approximately 8 degrees Fahrenheit according to Riverkeeper). This kills roughly a billion fish larvae and small fish each year and environmentalists have been arguing for temporary shutdowns of the plant to allow local fish populations to breed.

Indian Point’s impact on the Hudson is currently being reviewed in a state hearing administered by judges from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

But there is another way to look at the plant’s environmental impact. “Indian Point plays an important role in New York State’s ability to meet its ambitious environmental goals,” said Entergy spokeswoman Patricia Kakridas, referring to the fact that the plant does not emit any greenhouse gases. Both New York State and City plan to slash carbon emissions 80% by 2050.

Kakridas cited a 2011 study commissioned by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection which found that carbon emissions in the state would rise as much as 15% if Indian Point went offline because the cheapest replacement option would be gas-fired power plants. The study also modelled a much more expensive low-carbon replacement option for the plant, which would include a new direct transmission line into New York City and an offshore wind farm in Brooklyn.

What if there was no Indian Point?

There is ongoing debate about how -and when- the energy supplied by Indian Point could be replaced, and what the true impact on consumers would be.

The state’s Independent System Operator has a matrix of power sources which it draws upon every day- based on availability and price. The greatest proportion -over half- of available capacity comes from gas and oil powered plants. At least in the immediate, those plants would most likely be used more if Indian Point were to close.

The Ravenswood Generating Station, a 2,480 MW power plant in Long Island City, Queens. The plant uses natural gas, fuel oil and kerosene to power its boilers. Credit: RSGUSKIND

Indeed, the 2011 analysis conducted for the City found that residents would likely experience significant cost increases, more air pollution and less fundamental reliability in the event of a closure.

Power reliability is not something New Yorkers usually have to think about. Indian Point spokesman Jerry Nappi maintained that nuclear power’s capability to continuously generate electricity “exceed[s] by far those of any other source of power generation.”

New York’s electrical grid would face shortages during peak load conditions if Indian Point closed today- 500 more MW are needed for southeast New York alone, says NYISO. Their analysis takes a contingency plan into account which would create three transmission projects specifically for southeast New York and goes into effect in summer 2016.

New York’s electrical grid would face shortages during peak load conditions if Indian Point closed today- 500 more MW are needed for southeast New York alone, says NYISO. Their analysis takes a contingency plan into account which would create three transmission projects specifically for southeast New York and goes into effect in summer 2016.

“This deficiency would grow with peak load growth over time,” NYISO spokesman Ken Klapp told us.

Renewable sources of energy that are coming on-line now will help, Klapp stated, but “would not be enough to make up the shortfall.” Energy efficiency and better load management could potentially absorb about 125 MW of the shortfall created by Indian Point’s closure, Klapp said.

But conditions are constantly changing. The Cuomo administration is in the midst of restructuring how New York’s energy market functions, a process which is partially aimed at greatly increasing the use of renewables.

Klapp also noted that a new combined cycle (gas and steam) 650-700 MW power plant is to be constructed in Wawayanda, NY. NYISO is examining how much of an impact the plant could have on southeast New York’s power needs. It is expected to be operational by 2018.

And other research may show a clearer path away from Indian Point.

A study commissioned by the NRDC and Riverkeeper in 2011 also examined energy alternatives to Indian Point, such as greater energy efficiency, expanded renewable sources like solar and wind, new transmission lines and upgraded existing power plants. It reported that the extra cost to consumers -if Indian Point were closed- would be negligible, between $1 and $5 per month.

The London Array. Its 175 wind turbines power nearly half a million UK homes. A similar project -almost 200 3.6 MW turbines- has been proposed for a site 13 miles off the coast of the Rockaways. Wind power is growing in New York State.

That study -contrary to the report commissioned by the City- found that New York State has ample reserves to meet any downfall in energy supply from a closure of Indian Point, noted Paul Gallay. He said electricity costs would remain stable and even go down as it would force increased conservation and efficiency measures to be put in place.

“The sooner we move from a 40-year-old aging, unsafe nuclear plant 30 miles from downtown Manhattan, to safer, more sustainable sources of energy, the safer and more better off we’ll be,” Gallay argued.

And on this point, Gallay has the support of the Governor.

A long -and uncertain- relicensing process

Entergy began the process to renew their licenses on both reactors back in April 2007. But that process has since been opposed and delayed at almost every turn.

Currently, the application is going through hearings where stakeholders who have filed contentions against the renewal of Entergy’s licenses will be able to testify. The next hearing is in November and the process will “certainly go into next year,” said NRC’s Sheehan. “We don’t have any definite timeframe for it to be completed,” he added, emphasizing that Indian Point has seen a significantly longer relicensing process than any other nuclear power plant in the country.

NRC staff issued two different reports on Indian Point as part of the relicensing process: a safety review in 2009 and an environmental review in 2010. But the NRC continues to file supplements to these reports, with new information, each year.

With each supplementary report, parties opposed to the renewal are allowed to submit new contentions. A bulk of the contentions were filed early in the renewal process with most coming from the Cuomo administration. Only after the hearings are concluded can the five-member NRC give its final decision.

Complicating Entergy’s efforts further are two permits they have to obtain from the State government – a water discharge permit and a Certification of Consistency with the Coastal Zone Management Plan for the Hudson River. The second is currently being litigated in court after a judge ruled that the plant was exempt from the Coastal Zone Management Plan and the State appealed the decision.

Another case went against Entergy in July when an appellate court upheld the State’s efforts in 2012 to expand protected wildlife habitat areas to parts of the Hudson that run along Indian Point.

A speedy conclusion is unlikely. Because Entergy submitted its relicensing applications before the licenses for both reactors expire, federal law allows them to continue to operate the plant until the NRC reaches a final decision.

As this process grinds on, it remains to be seen how far and how quickly the Governor can take the state’s energy supply in a different direction, and create viable alternatives. Federal approval process notwithstanding, Indian Point may very well fall prey to his greener, cleaner, safer vision for New York.




Under Review: Impact of Expanded Gas Pipeline on City Aqueduct & Public Safety

This story was updated at 3pm on January 20th. We received information from the City of New York regarding their review of the expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline, and its potential impact on the Catskill Aqueduct.


A natural gas pipeline, which crosses over a major New York City drinking water aqueduct, will be increased in size as part of a multi-state pipeline expansion and replacement project. The “Algonquin Incremental Market Project” is currently under review by federal and state regulators.

The expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline within the Lower Hudson River Valley has attracted attention for several reasons, including the possibility that a new section of the pipeline will enter the grounds of the Indian Point nuclear power facility.

A final environmental review of the four-state pipeline project is expected to be released this week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A local group claims they have collected over 26,000 signatures requesting that federal regulators deny approval for the Algonquin project.

Crossing Paths with a NYC Water Tunnel

The Algonquin Pipeline, which delivers gas to Southern New England, crosses over the Catskill Aqueduct near Cortlandt, New York.

The 91-mile long Catskill Aqueduct supplies approximately 40 percent of New York City’s drinking water. The aqueduct runs from the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains, down to a large reservoir in Westchester, and terminates at the Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers.

Hillview then feeds City Tunnels 1 and 2, which bring water into New York City.

The Algonquin’s operator, Texas-based Spectra Energy, is seeking to replace the 26-inch pipeline crossing above the Aqueduct with one that is 42-inches in diameter.

According to federal regulators, “as with the existing pipeline, the new pipeline would be located above the aqueduct and would rest on concrete pads to provide adequate separation and protection for the aqueduct pipe.”

Gas Infrastructure Continues to Expand

High-volume hydraulic fracturing was recently banned in New York State, but expansion of the state’s gas pipeline network continues. Natural gas entering New York is being extracted in a number of western and Gulf Coast states, and, to a growing degree, in the Marcellus Shale region.

According to Spectra, the purpose of the Algonquin project is to expand its existing pipeline system from an interconnection at Ramapo, New York in order to deliver up to 342,000 dekatherms of gas per day to consumers in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Roughly 2,600 “average size” homes could be heated for one year with 342,000 dekatherms of gas.

The work proposed for the Algonquin is an extensive upgrade which anticipates growing demand for natural gas across Southern New England. Supply bottlenecks in New York State are contributing to “price volatility” across the region say pipeline developers.

Spectra plans to replace 26.3 miles of existing pipeline; 11.3 miles of new pipeline will also be constructed.

Six existing gas compressor stations in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island will be upgraded to add more horsepower. Twenty-four meter and regulating stations will be upgraded, and three more M & R stations will be constructed.

Spectra Energy also recently completed a natural gas pipeline from New Jersey to Staten Island and Manhattan.

Questions from Local Government

But as gas infrastructure expands, local residents and government seem more inclined to proceed with caution.

The Westchester, Putnam and Rockland county legislatures have all passed resolutions calling for more information about the environmental and public health impacts of the Algonquin expansion project, and more oversight. For instance, the Rockland County legislature passed a resolution in September stating that:

1.) before permits are issued, an independent air emissions baseline assessment be conducted in the areas directly impacted by the proposed compressor and metering and regulating stations modifications;

2) the pipeline be continually monitored by an independent expert acceptable to industry, local government officials, advocates and the public, funded by Spectra Energy; and

3) results of the continuous monitoring of air, water, land and all other environmental impacts be reported daily to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the EPA, and made available to the public in a transparent manner.

 Feds Issue a Tentative Green Light

In September, the FERC released a draft environmental review of the Algonquin project.

Regulators found that “construction and operation of the Project could result in numerous impacts on the environment.” Wildlife and their habitats would be affected, said FERC, as would 24 acres of New York wetlands and fisheries of “special concern.”

Nonetheless, the agency found that “most impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.”

The New York portion of the Algonquin expansion project crosses 39 waterbodies, including the Hudson River. Those waterbodies are located within 8 “sub-basin” watersheds in Rockland, Westchester and Putnam Counties.

FERC noted in its review that it had received questions from the public about the pipeline’s proximity to the Indian Point nuclear power facility in Westchester County. A new section of the pipeline will run under the Hudson River from Rockland County and reportedly cross Indian Point’s property about a quarter-mile south of the reactors.

Spectra has told FERC that “because of the distance of the proposed project from…[Indian Point] and the avoidance and mitigation measures that it would implement, the proposed route would not pose any new safety hazards” to the power plant.

In November, LoHud reported that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that the new pipeline crossing Indian Point’s property “will not add significant risks to the safety of the reactors.”

The NRC’s reassurance that a possible pipeline accident on the grounds of Indian Point -such as an explosion- would not be a safety hazard drew criticism.

“It just defies logic,” given the size of the potential impact zone, Westchester Legislator Peter Harckham told LoHud.

Map of New York City's water supply system. Courtesy of NYC Department of Environmental Protection.
Map of New York City’s water supply system. Courtesy of NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

Protecting NYC’s Watersheds & Water Supply Infrastructure

Similarly, federal regulators are saying that “protection measures” implemented by Spectra will ensure that construction and operation of the Algonquin project will not result in “significant impacts” on New York City’s surface water resources.

The Croton, Catskill, and Delaware water supply systems together deliver roughly a billion gallons of water every day to almost half of the state’s population. The Catskill and Delaware systems are located about 50 miles north and northwest of the Algonquin project facilities. However, expansion work on two sections of Algonquin pipeline will take place within the Croton watershed, closer to New York City.

How does Spectra plan to protect the watershed as it carries out pipeline construction?

The company says it has specialized procedures for potential issues like erosion and sediment control, spill prevention and mitigation, “unexpected contamination encounters,” and stormwater management.

The prospect of widening the Algonquin Pipeline as it runs over the Catskill aqueduct seems to have attracted more focused attention from FERC. Federal regulators ordered Spectra to consult with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to develop a final crossing plan for the Catskill Aqueduct.

“Algonquin should file with the [FERC] Secretary a site-specific crossing plan for the Catskill Aqueduct developed in consultation with the NYC DEP,” wrote FERC’s reviewers.

“At a minimum, the plan should include the location of the proposed pipeline relative to the aqueduct, the proposed construction methods, the timing of construction, any mitigation measures that would be implemented to minimize impacts on the aqueduct, and documentation of consultation with the NYC DEP,” FERC stated in its draft review.

Has Spectra followed through on FERC’s order?

Adam Bosch, Director of Public Affairs for the DEP’s Bureau of Water Supply, told NYER that Spectra “has submitted some preliminary design drawings to DEP, which are currently under review to ensure their proposal for a larger pipe would not pose a threat to our infrastructure or impede our access for regular maintenance to the Catskill Aqueduct.”

“At this point we’re unable to say when our review of their preliminary design would be complete, or if we’re going to require any changes to what they’ve presented,” Bosch concluded.

 Public Hearings this Week

In addition to a final federal approval, the Algonquin project also requires specific permits and approvals from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. These include Air Title V permits for the proposed compressor station upgrades, as well as a Water Quality Certification, Stream Disturbance and Freshwater Wetlands permits for portions of the pipeline upgrades.

The DEC has extended the public comment period through February 27th on these applications and draft permits. Comments can be submitted to DEC Project Manager Michael Higgins at AIMProject@dec.ny.gov.

State DEC hearings on the project will be held in Brewster this Wednesday, January 21st, at 6 p.m. Location: Henry H. Wells Middle School Auditorium, 570 Route 312.

And in Stony Point on Thursday, January 22nd, at 6 p.m. Location: Stony Point Community Center, 5 Clubhouse Lane.

The state DEC is also reviewing a separate pipeline that will cut through Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie counties. The contested 124-mile Constitution pipeline will ferry natural gas directly from the Marcellus Shale fields in Pennsylvania to New York and, ultimately, other Northeast states.

The Constitution Pipeline was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December and now awaits final approval from New York State.






Koch, once courted by Indian Point operator to be pitchman, explains opposition to nuclear plant

For former Mayor Ed Koch, the turning point in his thinking about nuclear power came in March 2011 after the radioactive cataclysm in Japan caused by a crushing tsunami.

“It was incredible how the Japanese government changed its warnings from day to day,” Koch said of the response to the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant that became the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl.

“It was clear to me that the owners of the facility were lying. The Japanese government lied at times as well. I thought to myself, what’s the sense of all of this? When I put all that together I said, the hell with it. I said, why are we tempting fate? Germany will eliminate all nuclear power, and that’s what we should do,” Koch told the Gotham Gazette in a recent interview.

[Read more at Gotham Gazette]