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US NRC checks review of gas pipeline at New York nuclear plant after report

Washington — The chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ordered a review of the agency's safety analysis of a natural gas pipeline near the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York after NRC's inspector general said in a report made public Wednesday the staff review was flawed and might need to be redone.

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The NRC IG's report also said NRC missed an opportunity to correct those flaws when it rejected a subsequent petition from consultants for the town of Cortlandt, New York seeking to reverse the agency's conclusions.

The NRC's 2014 review of the 42-inch-diameter Algonquin Incremental Market pipeline, designed to ease gas constraints in New England, was the basis for US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval of that project in 2015. The pipeline, which has a capacity of 342 MMcf/d, went into service in January 2017.

NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki directed agency staff Monday to promptly examine whether any immediate action should be taken in response to the report, and determine within 45 days whether the original analysis or the response to the petition should be changed. She also told staff to study whether any modifications to agency practice or procedures are needed.

An immediate review of NRC staff concerns determined no immediate action needs to be taken by the agency, Margaret Doane, the executive director of operations, said in a letter to commissioners dated Wednesday.

Indian Point-2 and -3, about 1,070 MW each, are scheduled to permanently close within the next year. About 2,300 feet of the Algonquin pipeline cross the Indian Point plant property "about a quarter-mile" from the reactors, NRC officials have said.

Prior to operation, New York state officials questioned the safety of having the pipeline cross close to the nuclear plant site, saying a leak or explosion could threaten the operation of the two reactors comprising Indian Point.

Paul Blanch, a nuclear engineer from Connecticut who has been challenging the NRC analysis for seven years, said he was gratified that the IG supported his contention that the review "was nothing but a fabrication." The culture of NRC and FERC must be changed to they do not always agree with industry requests, he said.

Blanch filed the petition for enforcement action, which the IG's report said NRC rejected based on a second analysis of the pipeline risk that was inconsistent and potentially non-conservative. He has subsequently petitioned NRC again to take action against Entergy for submitting inaccurate information, including that the pipeline could be shut within three minutes of a potential leak.

Entergy stands by its safety analysis of risks from the pipeline, but is reviewing the inspector general's report to see if there is any new information, plant spokesman Jerry Nappi said Thursday.

FERC approved the pipeline in March 2015, relying in part on the NRC review, then decided in March 2016 not to halt construction of the pipeline when New York state agencies began an independent safety review.

A FERC spokeswoman did not immediately reply for a request for comment.

The NRC IG's report said the agency's study of the issue contained inaccuracies, and that a modeling tool an NRC scientist used to perform an independent analysis of risk from a gas explosion to the nuclear plant was not designed for that purpose. FERC documents on the matter portrayed the NRC analysis as "significantly more conservative that it actually was," meaning it was described as more definitive about the safety of the proximity of the pipeline to the plant than was actually the case, the OIG said.

Several NRC senior managers agreed after discussions with the IG's office that it would be prudent to complete another analysis.

"I have questions about how well we validated their analysis, so I think we have more work to do," a top agency official, who was not named, said in the IG's report.