• Roger Witherspoon

Report Critical of Indian Point 2, 3

By Roger Witherspoon


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The Journal News (Westchester County, NY)

December 24, 2003 Wednesday


The Journal News


Poor maintenance and the lax oversight of contractors contributed to an excessive

number of sudden shutdowns at the Indian Point nuclear power plants the past 18

months, according to an analysis released yesterday by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory

Commission.


Federal inspectors also found that during the blackout of Aug. 14, which forced the

shutdown of nine nuclear reactors in several states, backup diesel generators at both

Indian Point 2 and 3 were inoperable. As a result, the plants' owner did not have a

way to provide continuous cooling power to its emergency centers or power for

equipment needed to operate its emergency evacuation plan.


The NRC's inspection was prompted by the seven shutdowns at Indian Point in 2002

and 2003. The NRC inspects nuclear plants if they have more than three unplanned

shutdowns during the course of 18 months. Though Indian Point 3 had five of the

unplanned shutdowns, the NRC examined both plants because of similar electrical

and maintenance issues.


Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns the plants in Buchanan, declined to comment

on the NRC report.


Ed Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.,

called the failure of the backup systems "one of the most serious scenarios that a

nuclear plant can experience. If you lose both on-site power and off-site power, then

all you have left are the batteries, and they run out after a very short period of

time."


During the blackout, Entergy shut off all remaining emergency- response equipment

and computer systems at Indian Point 3 to prevent them from overheating.


What was important about these failures, the NRC report states, is that a significant

amount of emergency-response equipment necessary to implement the region's

emergency plans had to be shut off by Entergy at the outset of a regional power

crisis. Entergy combined its emergency operations for the two plants at Indian Point

2, the report states, and was able to obtain sufficient power to operate that plant's

equipment in about two hours.


At both plants, NRC inspectors found, the problems with the backup systems were

avoidable. The Indian Point 3 generators had failed during a test in April 2003, but

the problems were not corrected. Problems with the Indian Point 2 backup

generators were identified in February 2000, after the rupture of a steam-generator

tube caused 20,000 gallons of contaminated water to leak inside the plant. That

accident resulted in the plant's shutdown for 10 months.


During its recent month-long inspection, the NRC found that Indian Point 2's backup

diesel generator was not strong enough to do the job required without overheating,

but it had not been replaced or augmented and failed again when suddenly activated

during the blackout.


In a written statement issued the day of the blackout, Entergy said that when the

power shut down, "the plants' backup diesel generators automatically turned on to

provide sufficient electrical power on site."


Kyle Rabin, of the environmental group Riverkeeper, a staunch Indian Point

opponent, said the conflict between Entergy's statement during the blackout and the

NRC's findings "raises a credibility issue with Entergy and everyone concerned about

the public health and safety should take note of it. Our elected officials have every

reason to call for the closure of this plant."


NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said that as a result of its shutdowns, Indian Point 3's

safety rating was lowered from green to white, the second best in a four-color

system, with red indicating the least safe operations. Indian Point 2 received a red

designation following the Feb. 15, 2000, accident. That designation was lifted last

year, and the plant now has a white designation.


Sheehan said the NRC was concerned about continued performance problems by

Entergy at Indian Point. But, he said, "they are moving to get these issues resolved.

We have seen evidence since this summer that they have been doing a better job,

and we will do an early assessment of their progress next year."


Reach Roger Witherspoon at rwithers@thejournalnews.com or 914-696-8566.

Highlights

* Poor maintenance and insufficient contractor oversight contributed to circuit

breaker failures Nov. 15, 2002, and June 22, 2003.

* Lack of thorough evaluations and corrective actions resulted in errors by Indian

Point 2 reactor operators and shutdowns at both plants.

* Overloading caused the failure of Indian Point 2 and 3's backup diesel generators

in the Aug. 14 blackout. Indian Point 3's backup generator failed a test April 18 and

the problem was not corrected.

* Entergy did not have a preventive-maintenance plan in place to ensure that


emergency power supplies, which provide backup power to emergency response

equipment, functioned regularly.

Roger Witherspoon

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