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  • Roger Witherspoon

Nuke Plant Wiring Probed

By Roger Witherspoon

Copyright 2004 The Journal News (Westchester County, NY)

The Journal News (Westchester County, NY)

March 3, 2004 Wednesday


The Journal News

Federal officials are investigating an allegation that the electrical wiring for the

critical safety and operating systems at the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant

violate federal regulations and could be inoperable following an accident or assault.

Three Nuclear Regulatory Commission electrical system experts held a closed-door

review last night in the Tuxedo Town Hall in Orange County with a former Indian

Point manager to review hundreds of pages of internal documents concerning the

condition of the plant's wiring.

The team was led by Peter Habighorst, the NRC's senior resident inspector at Indian

Point, and included two experts from the agency's regional headquarters in King of

Prussia, Pa. The documents were provided by William Lemanski, a Tuxedo town

councilman who was manager of software for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns

the Buchanan nuclear plants, until he retired last November.

Lemanski, in a formal complaint filed Feb. 20 with the NRC, contends that the

improper wiring began in the mid-1990s when the plant was owned and operated by

Consolidated Edison, but "Entergy has been continually concealing these problems."

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said yesterday that a special NRC panel of a dozen or

more experts will review the trio's findings.

"There is no set size for a panel like this," Sheehan said. "We want to have many

different perspectives and people with different types of backgrounds. It could lead

to an opening of a formal investigation by the Office of Investigations."

A finding of similar wiring problems at the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in

Wiscasset in 1996 led to the permanent shutdown of the plant the following year.

Entergy, in a written statement, yesterday said that all the plant's electrical systems

"meet safety requirements," and outside experts hired by the company found that

wiring violations detected by the plant's computerized monitoring system "are

attributable to the software, rather than actual conditions in the plant."

The statement said Entergy "welcomes a review by the NRC, which we believe will

confirm our review findings."

David Lochbaum, nuclear safety systems expert at the Union of Concerned

Scientists, said the issue raised by Lemanski involves "cable separation," which is

covered by one of the NRC's most stringent licensing regulations. The rule requires

each system to have duplicate wiring and equipment in different locations so that a

single accident cannot wipe out multiple safety and operating systems.

Lochbaum, a former consultant at Indian Point 3, said a March 1975 fire in a single

room at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Alabama "disabled the entire array

of emergency core cooling systems. The primary, the backup, and backup to the

backup systems were all lost."

As a result of this accident, said Lochbaum, the NRC requires plant owners to walk

inspectors through each room and "show that even if all of the equipment inside that

room is destroyed, sufficient equipment outside that room survives to allow the

reactor to be shut down and adequately cooled."

Lemanski, 57, worked for the New York Power Authority at Indian Point 3 for 20

years, and joined Entergy when the plant was sold in 2001. He was responsible for

the computer system that monitored the thousands of miles of electrical cables and

ensured that the wiring was up to standard. This was particularly important, he said

in an interview, because modifications are frequently made to electrical systems and

equipment, and these changes must comply with the NRC's regulations.

But in the mid-1990s, he wrote in his NRC complaint, Indian Point 2 engineers began

disregarding regulations, and "were undermining the cable separation and potentially

rendering engineered safety systems non-functional."

These violations were discovered, he said, when Indian Point 2 was purchased from

Con Edison later in 2001 by Entergy. The computer monitoring system Lemanski

managed "produced 329 pages" of data showing faulty wiring, and he said he

reported the discrepancies several times to management.

"I raised this issue to Entergy from the lowest level to the highest in the engineering

department in the last two years," he said, "and they continually ignored it, delayed

it and, to some extent, concealed it. And the corrective action program in place to

preclude this from happening didn't work."

Lemanski said yesterday that following the formal internal complaint last September,

Entergy's senior electrical managers and members of two outside consulting firms

met with him to review his records. He said they agreed on the seriousness and

extent of the problem, "and within a week or two one of the managers put together

an action plan that was pretty comprehensive."

When he retired, he said, he thought the problem would be corrected. But he said he

learned in January from former colleagues "that Entergy is now trying to alter the

logic in the computer program to minimize the errors that surfaced. This is just a

new chapter in an old shell game, and that's why I contacted the NRC."

Reach Roger Witherspoon at or 914-696-8566.


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