Bird poop forced a reactor to shut down at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County in December of last year. The New York Post reports that a state-demanded investigation by plant operator Entergy found that the December 14th, 2015 outage was prompted by crap from a "large bird" that dropped onto some electrical gear and tripped the facility's automatic shutdown mechanism.
"Damage was caused by a bird streamer. Streamers are long streams of excrement from large birds that are often expelled as a bird takes off from a perch," the report stated. "If a streamer contacts an energized conductor, the electrical current may travel through the streamer back to the bird or pole/transmission tower. The result may be a bird electrocution, power outage, and/or line trip."
The unplanned outage was the 20th that one or the other of the plant's two reactors have had since 2011, according to state investigation documents.
"It’s not clear how many of those were due to birds," Entergy reportedly wrote, referring to Unit 3's 13 shutdowns, "but the dropping did not put the plant in any danger of causing harm to the public."
An Entergy spokeswoman denied having a copy of the report referenced by the Post. Spokesman Jerry Nappi sent this statement regarding the shutdown:
Indian Point Unit 3 shut down safely and as designed in December following an electrical disturbance on outdoor high voltage transmission lines situated between our plant and the external electrical grid. While the cause of the electrical disturbance is still being reviewed by an outside engineering expert, a possible cause is bird "streaming"—an issue that is known to cause electrical interruptions in high voltage transmission lines throughout the world. An outside expert is still analyzing the failed equipment to determine the most likely cause. That final determination will be examined and reviewed for any going forward learnings.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has long called for shuttering the plant, citing its location 30 miles north of the Bronx and within an hour drive of 20 million people. The confrontation has heated up in recent months. Two days after the December 14th outage, Cuomo ordered the Department of Public Service to investigate what one official has called "the troubling trend of unexpected outages," beginning a legal battle over what Entergy must disclose, and what of that material must be made available to the public. Entergy has argued repeatedly that much of the information the state is seeking constitutes trade secrets and should be hidden if it must be turned over.
In a separate but related fight, Entergy sued the state in January over Secretary of State Cesar Perales trying to block the renewal of the facility's federal license by denying it a coastal safety certification. In refusing to sign off on the application, Perales argued that the plant is unsafe because of its proximity to two fault lines and the source of New York City's drinking water, and its heating apparatus's mass killing of fish in the Hudson River. Entergy countered that Perales doesn't have the authority to regulate nuclear power, and that the state's acceptance of three other nuclear plants undermine its arguments against Indian Point.
Since the state investigation began, a spill has leaked radioactive tritium into groundwater around the plant, prompting the federal government to beef up its inspector presence at the site. Cuomo called the radioactivity "alarming," but acknowledged that it posed no immediate safety risk to nearby residents. In response to the spill, the state brought the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation into the larger investigation, state documents show.
Late last month, the governor also demanded that the feds [pdf] halt construction of additions to the Algonquin natural gas pipeline, because of the planned pipe running less than half a mile from the plant. The pipeline transports gas from Texas to New England, and the planned expansion is supposed to add hydrofracked gas from Pennsylvania to increase capacity. The pipeline is operated by the company Spectra, which has also recently laid pipe beneath Chelsea and the Rockaways, and has a checkered safety record.
"The safety of New Yorkers is the first responsibility of state government when making any decision. Over the past several months there have been a series of serious incidents at the Indian Point Nuclear Facility, which my administration is investigating," Cuomo said in a statement. "At the same time, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved a natural gas pipeline in close proximity of Indian Point. I am directing my administration to commence an immediate independent safety analysis of the natural gas pipeline project and until that occurs, we urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to suspend the project."