Amid New Fire Safety Concerns, Indian Point Seeks to Dodge Federal Regulations Developed to Keep Nuclear Power Plants Secure in Fire Emergencies

NEW YORK – Amid growing concerns that Indian Point has failed to meet federal safety requirements, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today filed a petition with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) urging it to take enforcement action against the plant for its failure to comply with fire safety regulations. Following his lawsuit last month pressing the NRC to study the safety impact of storing spent nuclear fuel on site, today’s action is the latest in a series the Attorney General has taken to promote comprehensive, transparent and vigilant reviews of the Buchanan plant before decisions are made on whether to extend its operating license for another 20 years.

In a petition filed today with the NRC, Schneiderman wrote that compliance with fire safety requirements was necessary to ensure that the facility would be able to safely shut down during and after an emergency. Indian Point is currently in violation of established fire safety regulations and in seeking more than 100 exemptions from those regulations, undermines the efforts to secure the reactors lying within a 50-mile radius of where more than 20 million people live, work and travel.

“In the wake of Japan’s crisis, our country’s nuclear facilities should be bolstering their safety measures, yet Indian Point is looking to weaken its precautionary measures,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “It is absolutely essential for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to compel the facility to comply with all fire safety measures – both to secure the plant’s emergency systems and ensure the safety of the tens of millions of people living in the region.”

The petition Schneiderman filed today cites the NRC’s own fire safety concerns. In June 2008, the NRC reiterated that “fire can be a significant contributor to nuclear power plant risk.” In a follow-up memo, the NRC confirmed that fires account for “approximately one-half of the core damage risk at operating reactors.” These operational risks, coupled with those posed both by seismic and other security events, demand Indian Point’s proper and full compliance with the federal fire safety regulations of which the plant is now in clear violation.

The Attorney General is seeking enforcement on a number of fire safety code requirements from which Indian Point has sought exemption and is now violating. For example:

* The plant has not installed required fire detectors or fire suppression systems in various locations;
* It has not strengthened electrical cables to withstand fire damage for one- to three-hours, a regulation established to provide necessary plant security in the event of an emergency;
* Moreover, rather than installing automatic response systems, the plant would resort to employees to perform a series of complex manual actions, which the NRC has not authorized as a means of adequately protecting nuclear facilities in the event of a fire.

Earlier this month, Schneiderman called on the NRC to undertake a comprehensive, transparent and fair review of seismic risks before completing the Indian Point relicensing proceeding. The Attorney General also demanded that the NRC consider seismic risk – which it has so far not taken into account in the relicensing process – before making a decision on whether to extend Indian Point’s operating license for another 20 years.

In February, a month before the safety of spent nuclear fuel became a major issue in the damage control effort related to the Japan nuclear crisis, Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against the NRC for authorizing the use of Indian Point and nuclear power facilities as storage sites for radioactive waste for at least 60 years after their closure – without first conducting a full review of the environmental, public health, and safety risks of such long-term storage.

“Whether or not you support nuclear power or the relicensing of Indian Point, we can all agree that the plant must be required to operate within full compliance of all safety measures,” Attorney General Schneiderman added.