Our top priority at the Indian Point Energy Center is to operate our nuclear facilities safely. Since Entergy purchased Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 in 2001 and 2000 respectively, the company has invested over a billion dollars in equipment to enhance and strengthen safety and reliability with the overarching goal to make certain that Indian Point maintains the highest safety and security standards.
Our personnel receive more job-related training than most other industries. Even after undergoing extensive training prior to assuming their plant responsibilities, reactor operators receive one week of additional training for every six weeks they are on the job to ensure they are continually prepared to respond to any condition.
In addition to the extensive operational training, the containment structures at Indian Point were designed with multiple safety systems and components — first to prevent accidents, and second, to minimize the effect of any accidents that do occur.
There are several components on site that help us ensure our safety and the safety of our neighbors.
Structural safety is an intrinsic element to ensure the continued safe operation of the plants. The containment structures around the reactors provide multiple physical layers of protection. The plants are among the strongest structures built by man. In fact, the containment building has three primary layers of safety built in.
Operators in the control room continuously monitor equipment through multiple channels and are able to stop the fission process in the reactor in two seconds if needed. The plant is also designed to shut down automatically if any one of multiple equipment indications varies outside of its normal operating parameters.
In addition to strong containment and abundant supplementary safety systems, the backup safety layers include employees who are highly trained and skilled in both foreseeable and unforeseeable accident and event response, and comprehensive emergency plans with frequent drills involving all plant staff.
In fact, Three Mile Island is a perfect example of how well all of these components work together. Studies conducted by the University of Pennsylvania both 10 and 20 years following the 1979 incident show there were no adverse health effects from the event, further supporting the claim that the safety systems worked as they should have.
One of the biggest myths regarding nuclear power – and an unnecessary cause of concern – is that the plants can explode like a nuclear weapon. This is a scientific impossibility.
Fuel for nuclear plant uranium is mined from the earth and then goes through the process of “enrichment.” Derived from that process are Uranium-235 (which makes up approximately 4% of nuclear fuel used at a commercial facility) and uranium-238 (which makes up the other 96% of the fuel). In order to have an explosion, unranuim-235 must make up nearly 100% of the fuel. Scientifically speaking, a nuclear explosion at a nuclear facility in the U.S. would counter the laws of physics.
There are several measures in place to protect each of the spent fuel pools at Indian Point. Once removed from the reactor core, the fuel assemblies are transferred under water to the spent fuel pool. The fuel assemblies, which each contain dozens of rods that hold fuel pellets, rest in a pool of water approximately 40 feet deep to help cool the rods. The assemblies themselves stand 13 feet tall, so there is an ample 24+ feet of water on top of the fuel. This is important because water is a natural barrier to radioactive isotopes. Internally, there are additional cooling systems in place and backup systems to replenish the water supply in the event of an emergency.
Some fuel from both unit 2 and unit 3 spent fuel pools has been transferred from the pools to dry storage in large, robust casks that sit on an engineered concrete pad at Indian Point.
Storing Spent Fuel
Nuclear power plants have traditionally stored spent fuel in secure water pools at the reactor site. In the early 1980s, as space in the pools at the reactor sites ran out, the nuclear power industry began to explore alternative storage methods. Today, plants can increase on-site storage capacity by “reracking,” or placing fuel rod assemblies closer together in spent fuel pools, or by consolidating the fuel rods themselves. However, both these methods are also constrained by the size of the spent fuel storage pool at the plant. Another option is to store the spent fuel in an independent spent fuel storage installation, which can be stored at the site or elsewhere. This option is referred to as dry cask storage. Dry cask storage has been in use at U.S. nuclear plants since 1986.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is responsible for ensuring that nuclear plant operators meet federal safety regulations that ultimately assure that the plants are operated safely. NRC inspectors work full-time at Indian Point, reviewing day-to-day activities and programs. Additional inspectors conduct several special inspections of specific areas and programs each year. NRC inspection reports and other regulatory records are available on the NRC website.