Feds: No plans to reconsider approval of controversial AIM pipeline near Indian Point
THOMAS C. ZAMBITO | ROCKLAND/WESTCHESTER JOURNAL NEWS | 3:22 pm EDT July 3, 2018
Last week state agencies called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to re-evaluate its decision to approve the pipeline expansion
The agencies question whether federal safety officials took into consideration the design of buildings used to house spent fuel cooling pools
Nuclear regulatory officials have no plans to reconsider their decision to allow the expansion of a natural gas pipeline near the Indian Point power plant.
Their decision comes despite renewed interest from state agencies over an issue that has ignited protests throughout the Hudson Valley.
Activists gathered in front of Governor Anderw Cuomo’s house in Mount Kisco on Sunday, April 2, 2017, to raise concerns about the Algonquin Pipeline project and other environmental issues
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded in 2014 that in the event of a rupture to the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline, Indian Point’s two energy-producing reactors could safely shut down.
But several state agencies, in a June 22 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), released the findings of a risk analysis it commissioned more than two years ago, which raised new questions about the NRC’s findings and urged a re-evaluation of the risks the pipeline poses to public safety.
Specifically, the state agencies want FERC to re-evaluate whether the analysis used by the NRC and Indian Point’s owner, Entergy, considered the design of buildings used to house spent nuclear fuel cooling pools.
Activists gathered in front of Governor Anderw Cuomo’s house in Mount Kisco on Sunday to raise concerns about the Algonquin Pipeline project and other environmental issues
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the agency’s 2014 assessment has not changed.
“The NRC’s role was to ensure the new pipeline would not adversely affect the safety of the Indian Point nuclear power plant,” Sheehan said. “We determined, based on our review of the plant owner’s evaluation of the pipeline and our own independent analysis, that the reactors could either continue to safely operate or temporarily shut down if the line were to rupture in the vicinity of the plant. That assessment has not changed.”
Sheehan did say, however, that the NRC will take another look at pipeline-related issues when Entergy submits its dismantling plan – known formally as the Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR) — for the Buchanan power plant.
Road map for shutdown
Last year, Entergy cited the low price of natural gas and ongoing litigation with the state of New York in announcing that it will shut down operations at the 240-acre property on the Hudson River by 2021.
“The PSDAR will be a roadmap on how the decommissioning work will be carried out, and we will carefully review those plans,” Sheehan said. “But we would also point out that concrete mats were installed over the portion of the pipeline across the site to help ensure that it was not in any way damaged during any future excavation work.”
FERC spokesman Craig Cano said the commission’s decision to approve the pipeline is currently the subject of an appeal before the Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. and declined to comment on pending litigation.
“FERC approved a certificate for the AIM Project in March 2015 and denied rehearing of that order in January 2016, so the project is no longer before the Commission,” Cano said.
The pipeline, operated by Enbridge Energy Partners, extends north from Pennsylvania, coursing through communities in Rockland, Putnam and Westchester counties.
It has inspired a number of protests in recent years, including several held outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New Castle home. In 2016, several protesters were arrested after locking themselves inside a portion of the pipeline in Verplanck where a supporter carried a sign that read: “Why put a pipe bomb next to Indian Point?”
Photos: Algonquin pipeline protest in Mount Kisco
Community groups opposed to the pipeline had grown increasingly frustrated by the lengthy wait for the release of the risk study.
Two days later, several community groups turned up at a fundraiser attended by state officials in Croton-on-Hudson, where they pushed for an immediate shutdown of the pipeline.
“Residents of the region are very concerned that the Indian Point nuclear power plant is operating and the gas is flowing through the pipelines while the New York state agencies admit that a more robust analysis must be undertaken by FERC,” said Susan Van Dolsen of Harrison, a founder of Stop the Algonquin Expansion (SAPE). “For almost five years, pipeline safety and nuclear safety experts have said that the NRC and Entergy analysis was faulty. This letter raises very serious questions that FERC must answer.”
The letter was signed by the heads of the state departments of Health, Public Service and Environmental Conservation as well as the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
Opponents of the Algonquin gas pipeline project meet at Somers Intermediate School on Dec. 4.
It urged FERC to prevent Enbridge from increasing gas capacity on the pipeline while Indian Point remains open and spent fuel remains in the cooling pools.
“Given that previous safety assessments have been done based on currently approved operating pressures, FERC cannot allow any additional capacity or increased pressure on the three pipelines without at least conducting new safety assessments,” the agencies wrote.
After Indian Point shuts down, thousands of spent fuel rods will remain housed in cement dry casks on the property and will likely remain there for decades until the federal government comes up with a solution for storing the nation’s nuclear waste.
“While the probability of pipeline incidents is low, the proximity to the Indian Point nuclear plant makes the potential consequences of such an event very significant,” the agencies said in a statement. “Additional scrutiny and monitoring to better understand and reduce risks associated with the Algonquin pipelines is warranted. FERC must engage in further action to mitigate and investigate potential risks.”