NRC: No danger to Indian Point from natural gas pipeline

April 27, 2020, 11:22AMNuclear News

Entergy’s Indian Point nuclear power plant, in Buchanan, N.Y., would remain safe in the event of a rupture of a 42-inch natural gas pipeline installed near the facility, according to a team of Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff and outside specialists.

According to a 135-page report from the NRC and specialists that was issued on April 8, its conclusion is based on two factors: the pipeline has a very small chance of rupture near Indian Point due to the pipeline’s modern construction, quality control, and additional “high consequence” requirements for inspection and an integrity management program; and the plant’s safety systems sit well outside the potential impact zones for postulated pipeline accident effects, such as heat, pressure, and projectiles. The analysis also determined that any pipeline-related increase in Indian Point’s risk fell below the NRC’s thresholds for prompting additional action.

Context:The pipeline in question, now in operation, was part of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project, which proposed the construction of about 35 miles of new gas pipeline in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. Announced by Spectra Energy in early 2012, the project was authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2015. During the course of its construction, the pipeline engendered substantial opposition, including legal challenges, from a variety of citizen groups, elected officials, and residents, with some claiming that in a worst-case scenario, a pipe rupture could cause a meltdown at Indian Point.

The April report was submitted in response to a February “event report” by the NRC’s Office of the Inspector General that was critical of the NRC’s original pipeline inspection report and its handling of public concerns. (The NRC had become involved in the pipeline controversy to aid FERC in its decision to approve or disapprove the project by providing information on potential pipeline impacts on Indian Point.)

A closer look: The report reviews how Entergy and the NRC analyzed potential hazards from the proposed AIM pipeline in 2014, as well as how the NRC processed a public stakeholder’s petitions for enforcement action related to the pipeline. Although concluding that the pipeline is not a major concern to Indian Point, the report recommends, among other things, that Entergy update the assumptions used in its own risk analysis with new information developed by the team during its review and that the NRC improve its processes related to the conduct of technical reviews, peer review, inspection support, interagency cooperation, and public petition processing. The NRC intends to hold a public meeting near the Indian Point plant regarding the report once the region has sufficiently recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team behind the report included experts in NRC engineering reviews and probabilistic risk analysis, as well as a safety expert from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. In addition, the report incorporates insights from Sandia National Laboratories researchers with expertise on natural gas modeling and fire risk. All team members, according to the report, were independent of those performing prior reviews regarding the AIM pipeline and its potential effects on Indian Point.

Report of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Expert Evaluation Team on Concerns Pertaining to Gas Transmission Lines Near the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant is now available.

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