Yesterday's fire at the Indian Point nuclear power plant occurred in a transformer yard and away from the plant's nuclear area, but klaxons sounding at a nuclear facility have a way of putting people on edge. Transformers are the component of our electric power infrastructure that makes electricity suitable for transmission over the grid. When a fire broke out amidst the transformers used by Indian Point 3, the plant automatically shut down as by design. The other reactor, Indian Point 2, continued functioning normally.
Groups like Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC) feel that it is folly to operate a nuclear facility so close to such a densely populated area (Indian Point is about 40 miles from Manhattan). By all accounts, emergency systems at Indian Point 3 appeared to function properly Friday, but it is worth noting that the plant just had an unplanned shutdown on Tuesday, April 4th, when workers manually shut down Indian Point 3 after noticing a problem with a steam generator. This occurred only a few days after the reactor came back online last Saturday, following a 24-day scheduled shutdown to replace fuel rods. A news account earlier this week regarding the unscheduled shutdown Tuesday discussed the implications:
Sheehan said the plant's latest event puts it at the limit for shutdowns per 7,000 hours of critical operation. One more shutdown before the end of June would likely push its operating rating from green to white, the second-best safety rating.
It would then seem to follow that Indian Point is now at that second-best safety rating status, after yesterday's shutdown.
Update: The New York Times did report that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission downgraded Indian Point's safety rating Friday.
The commission acted on Friday because it was the plant’s fourth shutdown since last July 1. The national average is fewer than one unplanned shutdown per reactor per year. “We’re going to get rigorously attacked by our opponents,” Mr. Steets said.
(AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)