“Indian Point nuke plant lacking firefighting equipment, officials say public doesn’t understand” by Douglas Feiden
“Huge areas of the accident-prone Indian Point nuke plant lack essential firefighting equipment like sprinklers and fire extinguishers, the Daily News has learned.
The aging plant 24 miles from the city is missing basic smoke-eating tools, even as it sits on an earthquake fault and has suffered two fires since 2007.
Such safety shortcuts, approved for years by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, face new scrutiny in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuke plant.
Indian Point’s two active reactors are divided into 275 fire zones, of which 198 lack automatic fire suppression systems, according to records that plant owner Entergy gave the NRC in 2009.
That means 72% of the facility lacks things like sprinklers and automatic deluge water sprays.
One vulnerable hot spot is the spent-fuel pool at Indian Point 3, where radioactive and superheated fuel rods are kept cool. A spent-fuel pool triggered Japan’s nuke accident.
Records also show:
There are no manual fire suppression systems such as hydrants or fire extinguishers in 111 fire zones – 40% of the plant.
Fire detection systems common to most major office buildings such as smoke, heat or flame detectors are unavailable in 173 zones – 63% of the plant.
The data is contained in a little-noticed March 28 petition from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to the NRC alleging that most of the plant’s 275 fire zones violate minimum federal fire safety regulations.
“Indian Point’s ongoing failure to comply with federal fire safety requirements is both reckless and unacceptable,” he told The News.
The NRC approved the current status of fire safety in the 1980s, but in 2006 it told Entergy to justify in writing why it should keep the exemptions.
That plan, submitted in 2009, is still pending as the plant seeks a 20-year renewal of two operating licenses that expire in 2013 and 2015. Gov. Cuomo opposes relicensing and has called for the plant to be closed.
Schneiderman says Entergy’s application indicates Indian Point wants to water down its precautionary measures.
His staff claims Entergy wants to renew 275 exemptions from the NRC, one for each fire zone.
The exemptions would let workers shut the plant manually in case of a fire, instead of automatically via fire detection and suppression systems.
Schneiderman say the exemptions let the plant breach federal fire safety regs.
Entergy insists it’s only seeking 51 exemptions through manual workarounds, none of which compromises public safety.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the agency has not “identified any issues that rise to the level of an immediate safety concern.”
Schneiderman said the feds are too cozy with the industry.
“For years, the NRC has looked the other way as Indian Point ignores the most basic safety standards. With nearly 20 million people living and working within 50 miles … that’s a risk we simply cannot afford,” he said.
In a tour of the plant, Entergy executives said the fire safety performance is “second to none,” noting the firm invests millions to minimize fire hazards and keep a 50-person fire brigade on site.
“Public safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Fred Dacimo, vice president of operations. “Nothing is more important.”
Still, he acknowledged the absence of fire detection and automatic suppression equipment in dozens of the reactor’s fire zones, saying, “It’s hard to explain that to John Q. Public.”
Dacimo said several fire zones include large expanses of concrete and steel that can’t burn. Some have open space; others hold few combustible materials.
Plant operators argue that such zones don’t require sprinklers or fire detectors, or even hoses and extinguishers in some cases, because they’re next to zones with firefighting equipment.
Environmental advocate Riverkeeper says failing to deploy critical firefighting tools in sensitiveEntergy areas of a nuke plant makes no sense in a post-9/11 world.
“As we saw on Sept. 11, steel and concrete are susceptible to intense fires and structural failures,” said Phillip Musegaas, the group’s Hudson River program director. “The potential radiation release is much greater than it was in Japan.”
Entergy executives say they have safety measures in place in case of a terror attack.”
To view the complete article, search the archives at the link below: