Schneiderman files petition forcing Indian Point to comply with federal regulations

Mar 28th, 2011 | By | Category: Top Story

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant


NEW YORK – Amid growing concerns that Indian Point has failed to meet federal safety requirements, New York 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 in a news release. “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.

A copy of the petition is available on the Office of the Attorney General website.

NEW YORK – In the wake of the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said that the federal government must incorporate an immediate, full and open assessment of all public health and safety risks posed by the Indian Point nuclear energy plant, including those posed by potential natural disasters such as seismic activity, into its relicensing process for the New York plant.

Schneiderman’s call comes as the Indian Point power plant near New York City is being considered for relicensing, but without an open assessment of public health and safety risks posed to this facility — just as a report by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission reveals that some US power plants are more vulnerable to increased seismic risks than previously believed.

“It is beyond troubling that at the same time the federal government acknowledges increased seismic safety risk at some nuclear power plants in this country, it refuses to fully and openly assess these specific risks to Indian Point as part of its relicensing process,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Before any conversation about relicensing is concluded, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must answer basic health and safety questions.”

In a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Attorney General Schneiderman today declared that the federal agency must amend its regulations (for example, 10 C.F.R. Part 54), to include seismicity in the scope of review for relicensing, meaning it would be required to fully examine how seismic activity would impact Indian Point as part of its relicensing proceeding. Seismic activity is a factor that the NRC has repeatedly refused not to take into consideration in its review of the relicensing application to extend Indian Point’s operation.

Indian Point’s older reactor, Unit 1, was built in the 1950s prior to any specific requirement for earthquake protection. Although no longer operational, many of Unit 1’s system, structures, and components were conjoined to Indian Point’s other two reactors which are now up for relicensing. The aging Unit 1 systems, structures, and components were built to outdated seismic specifications, and Unit 2 and Unit 3’s continued reliance on these systems in accordance with poses significant safety questions.

In October 2007, New York called on the NRC to expand its relicensing criteria to include seismic analysis so that any decision to keep Indian Point operating for another 20 years would consider the threat of an earthquake. The NRC rejected the request.

“Whether or not you support the relicensing of Indian Point, we can all agree that we must answer the health, safety, and environmental questions affecting the nearly 20 million people living in close proximity to the facility, before making any relicensing decisions,” Attorney General Schneiderman added.

A full copy of the Attorney General’s letter to the NRC is available below.

March 18, 2011

Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko
Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki
Commissioner George Apostolakis
Commissioner William D. Magwood, IV
Commissioner William C. Ostendorff
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, D.C. 20555
Via electronic and U.S. Mail

Re: Seismic Risk at Indian Point Nuclear Generating Station

Dear Chairman Jaczko and Commissioners Svinicki, Apostolakis, Magwood, and Ostendorff:

I am writing you as a nuclear crisis, initiated by the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Northern Japan, is still unfolding. In addition to its potentially devastating impact on the people of Japan, this crisis serves as a graphic demonstration that nuclear power facilities in the U.S. may be vulnerable to seismic activity and experience catastrophic failures that compromise their ability to control and cool multiple nuclear reactors. Data from your staff analysis (GS-199), which demonstrates an increased risk of seismic activity at some nuclear power plants in the country add to my concern.

These factors underscore the importance of a fair, open, and full assessment of seismic risks in the relicensing of Indian Point.

New York State has raised concerns about seismic risk and other issues in relation to the relicensing of Indian Point with your staff on numerous occasions. At each turn, however, the NRC has refused to consider these critical issues in the relicensing review process.

As you know, the Indian Point nuclear power station in Buchanan, New York sits 24 miles from New York City. Of all the power reactors in the United States, the two operating Indian Point reactors have the highest surrounding population both within a 50-mile radius and a 10-mile radius. Seventeen million people live within 50 miles of these reactors. Indian Point Units 2 and 3, which initially came on line in 1973 and 1975, are currently the subject of an adjudicatory proceeding to extend their license by another 20 years (Unit 1 ceased generating in the 1970s).

As the NRC has acknowledged, Indian Point Unit 1, which was authorized in 1956, was built prior to any specific requirement for earthquake protection. Although the NRC revoked the operating license for the Indian Point Unit 1 power reactor in 1980, many of Unit 1’s system, structures, and components were conjoined to Unit 2 and Unit 3 and are still in use today. These aging Unit 1 systems, structures, and components were built to inferior seismic specifications, and Unit 2 and Unit 3’s continued reliance on these systems today poses significant safety questions.

The NRC has consistently blocked consideration of New York’s seismic concerns, as well as related concerns about population, emergency evacuation, fire safety, and site security.

In November of 2007, the Attorneys General of New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, and Vermont submitted a letter to the NRC which expressed the states’ serious concerns about the NRC’s failure to confront issues such as local seismic activity when deciding whether to renew the operating license of a nuclear power plant beyond its initial forty-year term The states requested that the NRC expand relicensing criteria to include seismic analysis. On December 30, 2007, the NRC rejected this request.

The NRC also disregarded New York’s “scoping” comments in 2007, which noted that the Indian Point operator’s Environmental Report and Updated Final Safety Analysis Reports do not reflect seismic information developed after the early 1980s, and which asked the NRC to require the owner to revise those outdated documents. The NRC subsequently issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) based on this out-of-date information. The DSEIS failed to mention new information regarding seismic activity developed recently by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) that included the area around Indian Point or to account for the findings of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory 2008 study. In fact, the NRC has not revised any of its Indian Point-related environmental analyses to take into account findings from this important independent study.

Perhaps most egregious is the NRC Staff’s issuance of the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) for Indian Point, which it issued three months after Staff issued the GS-199 analysis on seismic activity. The FSEIS did not make any reference to the NRC’s own findings of increased seismic risk at Indian Point.

In November of 2007, the state submitted two contentions in the license renewal proceeding arguing that the applicant’s “Updated” Safety Evaluation Report and Environmental Report insufficiently analyzed alternatives for mitigation of severe accidents like earthquakes in that it (1) failed to include recent information regarding the type, frequency, and severity of potential earthquakes and (2) failed to include an analysis of mitigation measures which could reduce the effects of an earthquake damaging the parts of inactive Indian Point Unit 1 which are currently in use at Units 2 and 3. The NRC Staff opposed acceptance of these contentions, and the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board excluded them from consideration in the adjudicatory proceeding because, it said, the state did not suggest feasible alternatives to address risks posed by the new data, or estimate the cost of the increased margin of safety that would result from any severe accident mitigation action. This burden is clearly not the public’s to bear and these contentions were excluded in error

Earlier this week, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Chairman Jaczko stated the NRC’s intention to conduct a review of the earthquake-related risks faced by nuclear power facilities operating in the central and eastern U.S. He stated that this review would take one to two years to complete, followed by a similar period of time to consider and implement mitigation measures. Indian Point Units 2 and 3 are currently the subject of a proceeding to extend their licenses by another 20 years – a proceeding in which the NRC has consistently ignored serious consideration of the risks that earthquakes and related issues pose to the Indian Point facility.

NRC should not contemplate relicensing Indian Point without first completing an open and public review of earthquake-related risks faced by this facility.

For this reason, the NRC must undertake an immediate, full, fair, and open assessment of all public health and safety risks that earthquakes pose to this facility, and provide the public an opportunity to fully review and comment on all phases of this review.

In addition, the NRC must take the following actions:

1. Promulgate an amendment to Part 54 and any other relevant regulations, which exclude seismicity analysis from the scope of safety review in relicensing proceedings, to specifically require the preparation of a public site-specific seismic analysis for the Indian Point and other reactors;

2. Open up the GS-199 seismic analysis proceeding for meaningful participation by states and the public so that all assumptions can be identified and tested and ensure that all information used in this proceeding is made available in the public record;

3. Address the risk posed by the Indian Point Unit 1 facilities, which share many common components and systems with the other Indian Point units, in a complete and transparent way;

4. Incorporate USGS findings and Columbia Lamont-Doherty’s findings into the Indian Point FSEIS for license renewal and re-issue the document for additional public review and comment;

5. Make public immediately the Commission’s plans, in their entirety, for addressing seismic risk at all three Indian Point plants; and

6. Maximize public involvement in the Commission’s and the NRC Staff’s actions regarding seismic risk at Indian Point.

Whether or not one supports the re-licensing of Indian Point Units 2 and 3, we can all agree that we must protect the health, safety, and environment of the nearly 20 million people living in close proximity to the facility. Only through a full, fair, and open assessment of the earthquake and related security risks surrounding this uniquely-situated plant – one that precedes any consideration of approving an extension of the Indian Point facility for another 20 years – can we provide these fundamental protections.

I thank you for your attention this request, and please do not hesitate to contact me at any time if I can provide additional information or you would like discuss this matter in greater detail.


Eric T. Schneiderman
Attorney General

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