Indian Point barriers to be subject of Federal appeals court ruling
Wednesday, May 20th 2009, 5:35 AM
A matter of 24 minutes could affect the lives of 20 million people within 30 miles of the Indian Point Nuclear Plant.
That’s the core of an argument awaiting a ruling from a federal appeals court in a case against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for allowing lower-quality fire barriers at the Westchester County plant 24 miles outside of the city.
The case also marks the first time the NRC is challenged to grant so-called exemptions that affect public safety without alerting the public.
The court case comes on the heels of an NRC public meeting Thursday night on safety at Indian Point.
The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel, 455 South Broadway in Tarrytown, with an informational open house starting at 5:30 p.m. The NRC will address ground-water contamination, radioactive spent fuel storage and emergency planning.
Last week, State Assistant Attorney General John Sipos and Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester) told a three-judge panel in Manhattan Federal appeals court that the NRC’s decision drastically compromises the safety of workers at Indian Point and some 20 million others within 30 miles of the nuclear plant.
Last year, the NRC granted a request from Entergy, the plant owners, to use fire safety insulation material that resists fire for only 24 minutes – not enough time to catch and contain a fire with the current hourly inspection schedule, the plaintiffs said.
Sipos and Brodsky also argued in court there would be a danger of fires in electrical junction boxes that control safe, emergency shutdowns, if needed.
NRC attorney Robert Rader countered that NRC staff determined there was a “reasonable assurance” fire-protection measures approved by the exemptions would control any credible blaze at the plant.
Rader said the NRC analyzed the requested exemptions in depth and found them adequately protective and were assured that the “underlying purpose of the fire protection rule had been met.”
The NRC said that using lower-quality fire barriers has been allowed at many other plants in the country, and the NRC has granted similar exemptions to certain fire safety standards over the last eight years.
The dispute also involves the NRC’s rules for granting exemptions without requiring public notification or participation.
Rader said the agency’s rules for granting exemptions are spelled out in the Atomic Energy Act as part of the “comprehensive regulatory framework” and the “ongoing review of nuclear power plants located in the United States.”