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Still Going Strong at 40, Indian Point Site ‘Constantly Being Renewed’

Sept. 4, 2013—The Indian Point nuclear energy facility in Buchanan, N.Y., will mark a significant milestone later this month as the site’s reactor 2 completes 40 years of commercial service and enters a period of extended operation.

Under Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules, owner Entergy Corp. can continue to operate the plant while it awaits final approval from the agency to renew the plant’s operating license for another 20 years. In the meantime, the company continues to invest in upgrades and enhancements—more than $1 billion in the past decade—that have transformed the plant from a middling performer to one of the most efficient generating facilities in the country.

Indian Point is nominally 40 years old, but, like all nuclear power plants, it has undergone extensive maintenance and refurbishment since it began commercial operation to ensure its continued safety and reliability and to implement new regulatory requirements.

“Nuclear energy facilities are not static. They are constantly being groomed, updated, made better, made safer—that’s happening all the time,” said Fred Dacimo, vice president of operations-license renewal at Entergy Nuclear Northeast. “Indian Point is not an old plant. It’s a new plant, and it’s constantly being renewed.”

The facility’s two reactors—with an installed capacity of 2,060 megawatts—are major contributors to New York’s electricity system, representing about 11 percent of the state’s total generating capacity and providing 25 percent of the electricity used in the densely populated New York City and Westchester County metropolitan areas.

Entergy bought the plant in the early 2000s and from the start had an eye on its long-term operation. Reactor 2’s initial license expires on Sept. 28; reactor 3’s in December 2015. In 2007, with extensive upgrades already in place, the company applied to the NRC for a renewed operating license.

So far, the agency has issued renewed licenses for 73 reactors, including Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One, James A. FitzPatrick, Palisades, Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee facilities. Ordinarily, the license renewal process takes about 30 months, said Diane Screnci, senior public affairs officer for NRC Region I.

The NRC staff has completed more than 27,000 work-hours of inspection and review at Indian Point and has recommended that renewed licenses be granted, but so many contentions have been raised that the NRC will not be able to complete the process by the time reactor 2’s license expires. Therefore, the NRC formally announced last month that, as permitted by the agency’s regulations, Indian Point may continue operating under its existing license while its renewal application remains under review (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Aug. 19).

After purchasing the plant, Entergy performed an in-depth assessment to determine what was needed to make Indian Point a top performer and position it for continued long-term operation. The company reviewed NRC inspection reports, evaluations by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, corrective maintenance records, system engineering reports and more. The next step was to develop a capital investment program to upgrade the plant. The resulting capital program for Indian Point was “very robust,” Dacimo said, averaging $100 million a year.

“We did a lot of things that we believed would pay big dividends in terms of safety and reliability,” Dacimo said. The company replaced big-ticket components such as high-pressure and low-pressure turbines, feedwater heaters, and main steam reheaters and replaced or overhauled a wide range of pumps. That investment has paid off in terms of plant performance, he said.

Additionally, although not part of the license renewal process, the company has invested more than $100 million at the site since 9/11 to strengthen security. Entergy also is making safety enhancements at Indian Point—and all its other nuclear plants—to implement new NRC requirements and industry initiatives adopted following the 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear energy facility in Japan.

Entergy decided to implement all its license renewal commitments for reactor 2 by the time the initial license expires, just as if the license had already been renewed. These commitments revise and increase inspection programs for those systems necessary for safe operation.

“We made a commitment that all our aging management programs would be in place and effectively being implemented [by Sept. 28],” Dacimo said. “This way, when the plant enters the period of extended operation, the public can feel confident that it is being managed and inspected the way it needs to be for safe long-term operation.”

By reflecting these commitments in the plant’s final safety analysis report, the company is updating its license to make those enhanced monitoring and inspection programs legally binding and enforceable.

While the NRC’s license renewal decision will be based solely on safety, the outcome will have broad implications for the area’s electricity system. In its most recent reliability assessment, the state’s independent system operator said that both the reliability and voltage stability of the grid would be reduced if the plant shuts down when the second reactor’s operating license expires in December 2015.