FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Inside America’s Most Dangerous Nuclear Plant

This essay is adapted from Born Under a Bad Sky: Notes From the Dark Side of the Earth by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR (CounterPunch/AK Press).

These are desperate days for Entergy, the big Arkansas-based power conglomerate that owns the frail Indian Point nuclear plant, located on the east bank of the Hudson River outside Buchanan, New York—just twenty-two miles from Manhattan.

First, a scathing report issued in 2005 by a nuclear engineer fingered Indian Point as one of the five worst nuclear plants in the United States, and predicted that its emergency cooling system “is virtually certain to fail.”

This disclosure was hotly followed by the release of a study conducted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that ominously concluded that the chances of a reactor meltdown increased by a factor of nearly 100 at Indian Point, because the plant’s drainage pits (also known as containment sumps) are “almost certain” to be blocked with debris during an accident.

“The NRC has known about the containment sump problem at Indian Point since September 1996,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The NRC cannot take more than a decade to fix a safety problem that places millions of Americans at undue risk.”

Entergy and the NRC both downplayed the meltdown scenario and defended the leisurely pace of the planned repairs. Entergy says that there’s no rush to fix the problems with the emergency system because a breakdown isn’t likely in the first place.

But that’s flirting with almost certain disaster. Entergy and the NRC are staking the lives of millions on odds of a single water pipe not breaking under pressure. The problem is that these very kinds of pipes have corroded and been breached at other nuclear plants, which featured similar pressurized water design. At the Davis-Bessie plant near Toledo, Ohio, a vessel head on one of the cooling water pipes had been nearly corroded away by acid and was dangerously close to rupturing.

The cooling water in these pipes is kept at a pressure of 2,200 pounds per square inch. If a pipe breaks, the 500-degree water would blow off as steam, tearing off plant insulation and coatings. The escaped water will pour into the plant’s basement, where sump pumps are meant to draw the water back into the reactor core. But the Los Alamos tests showed that the cooling water would collect debris along the way that will clog up the mesh screens on the pipes leading back into the reactor. If this happens, the cooling of the reactor fuel would stop, the radioactive core would start to melt, and the plant will belch a radioactive plume that will threaten millions downwind.

All this would happen very fast. The Indian Point 2 reactor would exhaust all of its cooling water in less than twenty-three minutes, while the number 3 reactor would consume all of its water in only fourteen minutes. Try getting a nuclear plumber that quickly.

Yes, it sounds trite, but that’s essentially what Entergy proposes as its quick fix to the meltdown scenario. Jim Steets, Entergy’s spokesman on Indian Point matters, told the New York Times last month that the company was training its workers to scour the plant for flaking paint and potential debris, and that if an accident occurred, they would pump the water into the core more slowly, a plan that would buy plant managers and executives a few more minutes to flee the scene.

Where people would go and how they would get there in the event of a nuclear meltdown or other radioactive release at Indian Point is unclear. In September 2002, New York Governor George Pataki commissioned a report on Indian Point’s evacuation plan. He picked James Lee Witt, who served as head of FEMA during the Clinton administration, to oversee the investigation. At the time, Pataki said that he would support closure of the plant if Witt’s report revealed that communities near the plant could not be safely evacuated.

Witt submitted his report on January 10, 2003. While somewhat timid and cautious, Witt concluded that Entergy’s off-site evacuation plans for Indian Point were woefully inadequate.

Witt wrote: “It is our conclusion that the current radiological response system and capabilities are not adequate to overcome their combined weight and protect the people from an unacceptable dose of radiation in the event of a release from Indian Point, especially if the release is faster or larger than the design basis release.”

In the end, Witt concluded that it was not possible to fix the evacuation plan, given the problems at the plant, the density of the nearby communities and looming security threats.

This scenario was followed by news that a review of the company’s security record revealed that Entergy, in cahoots with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, faked a test designed to determine whether the plant is vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

The NRC assured members of Congress that Entergy had developed a “strong defensive strategy and capability” for the plant and passed a so-called “force-on-force” test—a mock assault—with flying colors.

It turns out that the NRC gave Entergy officials months of advance warning about the test and then, as the Indian Point team cribbed for the exam, dumbed down the assault to ensure that they would pass.

Most assessments by the CIA and other intelligence agencies suggest that a raid on a nuclear plant would require a squad-sized force of between twelve and fourteen attackers, assaulting the plant by night, armed with explosives, machine guns with armor-penetrating bullets, and rocket-propelled grenades.

This isn’t the attack that was repelled by the Entergy security team. Instead, Entergy’s men battled off a squad of four mock terrorists, armed only with hunting rifles, who assaulted the plant in broad daylight. Moreover, the attacking squad weren’t former Delta Force operatives trained in terrorist tactics, but security officers from a nearby nuclear plant, who assault the plant from only one point after crossing open fields in plain view of Indian Point’s security guards.

Just to make sure that there were no surprises, the Entergy security team, which consisted largely of guards hired only for the test, was warned that a mock attack would take place sometime within the next hour. Even under these rigged conditions, Entergy barely passed the security test.

Environmentalists and anti-nuke activists living near the plant hoped this would be the final straw for the aging reactor. They marshaled their evidence of safety violations, inept evacuation plans, and lax security and headed off to offices of the most powerful Democrat in America, Hillary Clinton.

But Hillary remained as reserved as Pataki on Indian Point, issuing robotic requests for more studies, but refusing to call for the plant’s closure. Not that her words mean much. The senator pledged to filibuster the nomination of Utah governor Mike Leavitt for director of the EPA. She ended up voting to confirm his nomination.

Of course, Hillary’s ties to Entergy are almost primal. The Little Rock-based Entergy Corporation, which once employed John Huang, the infamous conduit to the Lippo Group, was one of Bill Clinton’s main political sponsors, shoveling more than $100,000 into his campaign’s bank accounts from 1992 to 1996.

The more plaintive the cries for Indian Point’s closure, the more money Entergy spreads around to politicians with reputation for flexibility in these matters. Already this year, Entergy’s New York Political Action Committee—ENPAC New York—has doled out more than $25,000 to New York politicians alone. Everyone got into the act from Pataki and Clinton to Democratic congressman Eliot Engel to lowlier foot-soldiers for the nuclear plant, including two state assemblymen; commissioners from Westchester and Orange counties; Bronx Borough president Adolfo Carrion; and state comptroller Alan Hevesi, whose election campaign was endorsed by the Sierra Club.

Political money isn’t the only tool in Entergy’s bag of tricks. In late October, community activists in the Bronx reported that emissaries from Entergy were canvassing black and Hispanic neighborhoods in New York City and Westchester County with an ominous warning: If Indian Point closes, air quality in urban areas will deteriorate and more blacks and Hispanics will develop respiratory illnesses. The Entergy reps told people that new coal-fired power plants would be built in their neighborhoods and urged them to sign a petition.

“In recent years, nearly all proposals for new power plants in New York state have been in or adjacent to areas with high concentrations of people of African descent and Latinos,” a memo handed out at the door warns. There is, naturally, much truth to this claim, and Entergy is in a unique position to know, since throughout the Southeast the company has targeted its power plants in black neighborhoods, where it has heralded them as bringing economic engines for impoverished communities.

The canvassers also carried cell phones as they ambled from door to door. They hit the speed dial number of a local legislator, handed the phone to the resident and then prompted them on how to express their concerns about the possible closure of Indian Point.

The petition drive, which discreetly by-passed the thirteen predominately white districts in Westchester County, was run by a group calling itself by the lofty-sounding name: “The Campaign for Affordable Energy, Environmental & Economic Justice.”

The group was supposedly based in Manhattan. In fact, it was created and wholly funded by Entergy.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

 

 

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal
Naman Habtom-Desta
Up in the Air: the Fallacy of Aerial Campaigns
Ramzy Baroud
Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’
Mark Hand
Residents of Toxic W.Va. Town Keep Hope Alive
John Kendall Hawkins
Alias Anything You Please: a Lifetime of Dylan
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigots in Blue: Philadelphia Police Department is a Home For Hate
David Macaray
UAW Faces Its Moment of Truth
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Horace G. Campbell
Edward Seaga and the Institutionalization of Thuggery, Violence and Dehumanization in Jamaica
Graham Peebles
Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis
Michael Schwalbe
Oppose Inequality, Not Cops
Ron Jacobs
Scott Noble’s History of Resistance
Olivia Alperstein
The Climate Crisis is Also a Health Emergency
David Rosen
Time to Break Up the 21st Century Tech Trusts
George Wuerthner
The Highest Use of Public Forests: Carbon Storage
Ralph Nader
It is Time to Rediscover Print Newspapers
Nick Licata
How SDS Imploded: an Inside Account
Rachel Smolker – Anne Peterman
The GE American Chestnut: Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology?
Sam Pizzigati
Can Society Survive Without Empathy?
Manuel E. Yepe
China and Russia in Strategic Alliance
Patrick Walker
Green New Deal “Climate Kids” Should Hijack the Impeachment Conversation
Colin Todhunter
Encouraging Illegal Planting of Bt Brinjal in India
Robert Koehler
The Armed Bureaucracy
David Swanson
Anyone Who’d Rather Not be Shot Should Read this Book
Jonathan Power
To St. Petersburg With Love
Marc Levy
How to Tell a Joke in Combat
Thomas Knapp
Pork is Not the Problem
Manuel García, Jr.
Global Warming and Solar Minimum: a Response to Renee Parsons
Jill Richardson
Straight People Don’t Need a Parade
B. R. Gowani
The Indian Subcontinent’s Third Partition
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: The Black Body in LA
Jonah Raskin
‘69 and All That Weird Shit
Michael Doliner
My Surprise Party
Stephen Cooper
The Fullness of Half Pint
Charles R. Larson
Review: Chris Arnade’s “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America”
David Yearsley
Sword and Sheath Songs
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail