A Proposed Natural Gas Pipeline is Next to a Nuclear Power Plant. What Could Go Wrong?

Yves here. This article may seem a bit wide of this site’s usual terrain, but it’s a vignette of corruption and how far corporations are willing to go in their pursuit of profit. And it’s not as if the proponents can justify this plan by arguing that the nuclear plant is in a remote location.

What makes the logic of the defense of the close to co-location of two potentially hazardous activities is that a local event could damage and/or make it difficult for personnel to get to both at the same time.

By Katie Herzog. Originally published at Grist

What’s scarier than an aging nuclear power plant? An aging nuclear power plant next to a natural gas pipeline.

That could be the new reality for the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power station located in Westchester County, just 45 miles north of Manhattan. A proposed expansion of a natural gas pipeline across the power station’s property has environmentalists and other groups concerned that an accident could turn the power plant into an unrivaled disaster. It’s a bit like smoking next to a gas tank — a gas tank filed with nuclear fuel near one of the densest population centers on the planet.

Despite how ill-advised this sounds, the pipeline has already been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Why would they allow such a thing? Well, as the New York Times notes, approval was partly based on reviews carried out by the Entergy Corporation — which happens to be the same company that owns the plant.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a resident of Westchester County, is not having any of it. Cuomo recently directed his administration to conduct an independent safety analysis of the pipeline project after hearing that radioactive water had leaked from the aging plant and into the groundwater. This is just the latest strike against Indian Point by the Cuomo administration, which called for the plant’s closure last year. “The safety of New Yorkers is the first responsibility of state government when making any decision,” said the governor in a statement.

Cuomo isn’t alone. In Nov. 2015, a group of climate activists known as the Montrose 9 blocked construction of the pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Texas to Massachusetts. In addition to the activists’ concerns about the affects of burning natural gas on the climate, they targeted the Spectra-owned pipeline for its proximity to Indian Point, which the federal government previously listed among the nation’s worst power plants.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, however, seems unconcerned. “Our expert confirmed that both units could safely shut down, even if the pipeline were to rupture and a blast of flame were to come from that line,” said Neil Sheehan, spokesperson for the commission.

Cuomo and activists like the Montrose 9 have the support of many locals, who oppose the project not just for the potential nuclear bomb in their midst, but because of the ill health affects of the pipeline itself: People who live near gas infrastructure have reported chronic fatigue and respiratory ailments. As Westchester resident Courtney Williams told Grist’s Ben Adler, “There is a sensationalism about potential rupture because it’s catastrophic, but it will [also] be a catastrophe for folks having to breathe this stuff.”

We don’t know yet what will happen with the pipeline — or with Indian Point, for that matter — but we know that when it comes to natural gas and nuclear power, the mix will surely be explosive.

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  1. Thomas Williams


    Having spent the past 16 years repairing nuclear power plants around the country, I know a little about this subject.

    1st of all, Indian Point is a rotten plant and should be shut down. 2ndly Entergy specializes in running plants into the ground then getting the feds to subsidize demobilization. A truly evil company.

    You’re correct, a pipeline in this area is really stupid but I’ve found the NRC is one of the federal agencies which takes their job seriously and can be trusted. A pipeline explosion might or might not interfere with safe shutdown of the reactor but I’d be inclined to trust the NRC on this.

    That said, the pipeline should not be allowed for other reasons.

    Been reading you for years. Keep up the good work.

    Incidentally, I was 1st in line at the polls this morning and am happy to report that as of 7:02 am, in Georgia the results were Sanders 1, Clinton 0

    1. bas

      Yes, Entergy is a terrible company.

      A point of contention for the state and Entergy is how Entergy Vermont Yankee is spending money from the decommissioning trust fund, which had reached approximately $660 million as of the shutdown.
      “Now it’s down to about $600 million,” says Smallheer. “Yankee has made quite a few withdrawals with this so-called 30-day notification to the NRC, which is how the state of Vermont learns about it.”
      The state claims that Entergy is not providing enough information on how these funds are being spent.
      “Vermont has a very vested interest in not only getting the plant decommissioned as quickly as possible, because Entergy said they’ll start decommissioning as long as there’s adequate funds in the decommissioning trust fund, but because whatever’s leftover goes back to Vermont ratepayers who started the fund,” says Smallheer….According to filings that Entergy has made with the NRC, Vermont Yankee does not expect to begin deconstruction until 2068.


      1. Optimader

        Mmmmm. This is more a presentation of an arguement to close a geriatric nuke power plant and philosophical angst about fracked NG than a critique of the risk assessmentthat was made.
        What damage to the plant from a NG pipline rupture explosion is in playhere? Certainly some spectacular thermal energy relrase and radidiant heat or is it a concern w/the overpressure wave when it lights off? Im guessing a nuke pkant would be good for that.
        The existential threat of an errant B757? Maybe not so much. Pick your poison when assessing risk.

        I wonder if Entergy longer term plant is to drop in a NG power plant, utilize the distribution infrastructure and decommision The nuke?

    2. Cry Shop

      “1st of all, Indian Point is a rotten plant and should be shut down. 2ndly Entergy specializes in running plants into the ground then getting the feds to subsidize demobilization. A truly evil company.”

      and yet.

      “but I’ve found the NRC is one of the federal agencies which takes their job seriously and can be trusted.”

      Now I’ll add that Indian Point isn’t on any list for an impending ordered shutdown by the NRC, much less given any heavy penalties, nor has Entergy as a corporation been given any warning it’s licenses are at risk.

      So, am I the only person wondering if there isn’t just a hint of cognitive dissonance on display here? I will say it’s not personal issue, but the norm with most of the American nuclear industry people I’ve met over the years. However is it any worse though than people who reject nuclear, but have not done piddle to seriously reduce their C02 foot print, at least until alternatives are truly on-line?

      Entergy is a Chicago based corporation, a long time supporter of the Daley machine, and close friends/financial sponsor to Obama’s ego stroking manipulator, Valarie Jarrett. Obama has been a big time help in Entergy’s short time play on nuclear, cutting the legs out of the NRC, and throwing the long term waste storage projects off the bus so Entergy won’t have to pay for them, and working with Republicans to make it easier for Entergy to divert all their liability into operating companies while funneling all the income out where it can’t be touched (if (or perhaps more accurately, when) there is a serious event. Entergy helped draft Obama’s recent “green” energy Executive Order. Entergy is also one of the organs besides Shell and Exxon-Mobil who got Sally Jewell, Queen of Fracking, into the Sec. of Interior, they make even more money from their gas fired plants than they do from Nuclear.

      The NRC still has some competent staff on the shop floor, but management has them bottle up, and those that refused to buckle under were transferred out to basement office type jobs. No one in the US system can stand up to that kind of money, it’s no use avoiding the issue.

  2. Synoia

    The safety of Rich New Yorkers is the first responsibility of state government when making any decision

    It is Westchester county, home of Corporate Executiveland. NIMBY’s to the core.

  3. steelhead23

    I am not as convinced as Thomas above that the NRC is immune to corporate interests having watched it extend operating licenses without considering alternatives. At Indian Point I would support decommissioning of the reactor with changes in the turbine-generators into natural gas fired turbines or boilers. But let’s decommission the nuclear reactor first, then build the pipeline and new natural gas-fired powerplant.

    1. Synoia

      It would be a combined cycle new plant, with both gas turbines and exhaust heat capture to generate steam for a steam turbine.

      Reusing old steam turbines is not economical.

      1. steelhead23

        Agreed. But the transformers and transmission lines are there and the new plant could be designed around those features. Kill the nuke.

  4. kimyo

    if cuomo really wanted it shut down, it would have happened by now.

    Indian Point Contaminates the Hudson River With Uncontrollable Radioactive Flow

    The Coastal Zone Assessment, released November, 2015, expressed concern about the periodic leaks into the Hudson River because it serves as a direct water source for Poughkeepsie, Wappingers Falls, Highland, Port Ewen, East Fishkill, Hyde Park, and the Village of Rhinebeck. It is also a backup water source for some 9 million residents of New York City and Westchester County.

    “Tritium,” explained David Lochbaum, nuclear safety expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “is just the first item reported. It tends to be the leading edge of any spill since it is the lightest and most mobile of the radioactive contaminants. The other isotopes slow down as they go through the soil. That other stuff is on its way, however. Tritium just wins the race.”

    In the past, the Coastal Zone Management report states, “radioactive releases have been detected at the Indian Point facility from cracks in two different spent fuel pools. Leaks of radioactive liquids from the Indian Point 2 spent fuel pools have reached the Hudson River and have been detected in the groundwater beneath the Indian Point facility.”

  5. Jerry Hamrick

    I happened to live in Pennsylvania when the nuclear plant there leaked some radiation into the atmosphere. I lived within 10 miles of the plant. Everybody got excited and they were justified to do so. But, overall, the leak did little damage.

    I now live in Texas within thirty yards of a natural gas pipeline and within 100 yards of another, and I live within two miles of an atomic power plant. At night I can see the red lights on top of the cooling towers from my house. This plant has been in place for many years and everything has gone well. The pipeline nearest to me was replaced two years ago and is doing well. It was very impressive to see the professionalism of the people who replaced that pipeline. Because of the hilly nature of our local geography I could watch them lay pipe across long stretches. They did so with very little disruption to nature. They were careful and they cleaned up after themselves.

    The people who work at the power plant are responsible and hard-working, and the power plant has contributed mightily to the local economy. I know we hate nuclear plants, and I understand all of the dangers, but at the same time the danger from global warming is not due to nuclear power plants. It is due to the burning of fossil fuels. It is still astonishing to me that people reacted with alarm about nuclear power plants. They called them ticking bombs, and other nonsense. And all the while, the very atmosphere they breathed was being steadily poisoned by fossil fuels. Another worry was that we would have to deal with nuclear waste. That is a genuine problem, I don’t dispute it. But the greater problem is that fossil fuels are killing our planet and we are doing nothing about it. The waste we have to clean up because of fossil fuels is greater and more deadly than that of nuclear waste even if we had built nuclear power plants instead of gas and coal power plants. And, don’t kid yourself, nuclear power plants will play a big role in the second half of this century, but only if we start building them now.

    I wonder what we will say in fifteen years when we realize that if we had only gotten our butts in gear and started building nuclear plants to replace all the fossil fuel plants we would have increased our chances of survival. I say survival because that is exactly where we stand. The survival of our civilization and possibly our species is at risk, and as far as I can see no one has a plan for saving our world.

    What do you think would be the the most important step we should take to save our world? When should we take it? Who should do it? I am talking about a real step, a measurable step. Not a goal, or a slogan, but a real course of action. What would be first? Why?

    1. kimyo

      Nuclear Is NOT a Low-Carbon Source of Energy

      And yet the production of nuclear fuel is a hugely intensive process. Uranium must be mined, milled, converted, enriched, converted again and then manufactured into fuel. You’ll notice the [the nuclear industry] doesn’t mention the carbon footprint of all steps in the nuclear chain prior to electricity generation. Fossil fuels have to be used and that means CO2 emissions.

      Nuclear energy is not the “clean” energy its backers proclaim. For more than 50 years, nuclear energy has been quietly polluting our air, land, water and bodies—while also contributing to Global Warming through the CO2 emissions from its construction, mining, and manufacturing operations. Every aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle—mining, milling, shipping, processing, power generation, waste disposal and storage—releases greenhouse gases, radioactive particles and toxic materials that poison the air, water and land.

      1. Cry Shop

        Actually the IAEA includes mining and extraction in it’s studies, and compared to coal or even natural gas, it is a relatively much lower source of C02 emissions. Hydroelectric is a bit lower than nuclear (Concrete is energy intensive), while solar looks like it is lower still, but a bit harder to quantify. (for example, solar industry never includes the carbon cost of storage, like pumped storage facilities, that would be necessary if solar was a base supply for the grid).

        Guesstimates are that ignoring the storage issue, solar payback on C02 is about 3.5 to 5 years, while the panels life may be up to 20 years. However I think this is a bit optimistic. Data is incomplete. Foundry making solar panels isn’t just very energy intensive, but more importantly, the mining of rare earths and processing them to make the compounds to dope the silicon wafers is extremely energy intensive. It also produces toxins just as deadly, and much of this data isn’t available in a hard, trustworthy data base as the major sources were all in China, and China is protecting the industry with a news / data block out. Now that Vietnam is getting into the industry, we’ve another source of info, but Vietnam isn’t much more cooperative than China. Iceland too is being coy, but then they are a tiny, tiny drop in the bucket and so hardly worth pressuring.

        Radiation has a half-life, where as toxic elements (like the lead in Detroit water) are forever (or at least until the heat death of the universe has happened). One other thing about radiation is that it can be relatively easily detected and avoided, compared to toxins.

        Finally every day you’re being bombarded with radiation from “natural sources” like our ancestors, but humans did not evolve in the toxic soup of chemicals we cook up now. Next to climate change, my bias for the most dangerous thing humans are doing is the production of nano-particles, but the I could be wrong — it is just a gut feeling..

        In the end we should remember high and low are relativist terms and that “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Oscar Wilde

        1. cg

          Half-life of spent fuel means there’s a quarter-million year liability, but I suppose that’s covered in the plant budgets.

          1. Cry Shop

            Extremely long half life materials are much safer to be around in terms of for each type of radiation (there are 3 main types), than short half life — per weight the dosage over any exposure time is considerably lower. If you lived in Denver Colorado, then you are getting a higher dose from those long half-life items than all of the doses experience by the average nuclear industry worker. Wonder how many people in Denver are dropping dead from it? Those with really short half-lives are very dangerous, but can be mitigated by short term storage (a few months to a few hundred years). It’s the medium term half-life emissions that are a big problem. (hence the interest in developing the thorium cycle, which doesn’t produced them.

            What’s really toxic is metal that is in the nuclear fuel, and we get that toxicity with out the radiation, and it’s forever. This is why USA using depleted uranium as a weapon like a obese child eats sugar is not just a war crime, but a crime against humanity. But do remember that when you buy any veggies, they have been grown while coal fired power stations has been sprinkling mercury, uranium, and a long, long list of other nasty elements, including radiation emitting ones, and then there is the run off from the mines getting into the water system.

            We get the same thing with a cell phone. I remember a study from 6 or 7 years ago having estimated that Apple and Apple phone users have killed more 3rd world people through toxic exposure than the civil nuclear industry. I’ll have to dig that one up again one day, but it will most likely be behind a paywall.

            Both deaths created by consumerist are not good, better to do something about them, but most people won’t give up their phone, nor their cars, nor their daily hot showers, etc.

            Rational though is a relatively new experience for humans, it’s not easy. Most of the university professors I know have trouble doing it full time themselves, I know I do. After all, I make my money as an engineering expert because we expend coal, gas, uranium, thorium, photons, or rainfall every time we throw a switch.

            I know the results of people using all of them on other people well enough enough that I ride a bike, never take a car when traveling, shower with cold water before I water my plants I grown on my roof with it, don’t heat or cool my house, etc; yet here I am clicking away on a electric run internet, probably wasting my time for all it will change the world for the better, because it gives some solace to me. Is that not a perfect symbol of irrationality. What can we hope for the average balance of humanity?

            Good luck out there, but I think George Carlin was right.

      2. Steve H.

        kimyo, a link from a link from your link is a page I’ve been trying to find again for over a year. I thank you.

        Cry Shop, the Limits to Growth study was remarkably prescient, and it was pollution that led to skyrocketing death rates. They didn’t try to individually model each separate pollutant, in part because that wouldn’t account for pollutants not yet discovered. So I’m piling on, not debating, when I say my choice for ‘most dangerous thing’ is endocrine disruptors. And that we’re probably both wrong.

        1. Cry Shop

          Agreed, Steve H.

          I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry when the mass market stores no longer sell old tech cast iron frying pans, everything is aluminum coated with PTFE. The toxins from PTFE production will outlast even the risk dose from even the longest half-life radiation isotopes. Now even sports clothing is being coated with the stuff.


  6. Vernon Hamilton

    Well, that’s a boat load of assumptions right there.
    Taking your last point first, The first coarse of action is to make do with a whole lot less. We all of us are really engaged in hugely gluttonous profligate use of energy, it is precisely that rate of consumption and all the externalities backward and forward, that is the threat.

    A huge build out of nuclear power would at most extend the feast a few decades,- even supposing the needed capital could be found. Nuclear fuel is a finite resource. Massive resource extraction in strategically risky parts of the world is another major drawback and self limiting factor to our civilization as it exists. The inputs to the nuclear fuel cycle seriously cut in to the supposed carbon neutrality of nuclear power.
    Maybe our civilization needs to change in a fundamental way, rather than be propped up for a while longer at any cost. Civilizations come and go, maybe ours is indefensible as it is.

    1. Jerry Hamrick

      Good points. A few decades will be precious at the rate we are going. In other words, we may have to go forward with two plans in case one of them does not work perfectly.

      Funding will not be a problem. Many people are waking up to the fact that our last excuse to limit spending ended in 1933 when FDR took us off the gold standard. So long as we spend our money on worthwhile projects that are non-inflationary, and we have a lot of those, Weimar will not be repeated here. But we will be limited by other resources including trained personnel. So maybe we ought to welcome illegal immigrants and put them into training programs just as we should do with the rest of us.

      But no plan has any chance of implementation as long as our current systems of government and economics are in play. They are naturally designed to eschew cooperation just when cooperation is of the utmost importance.

      1. MyWag

        Agree 100% on Federal funding should never be a problem. Functional Finance or MMT has explained this quite well. The Austrian and Chicago economists are still protecting the rent seekers of the world.

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