DHSES Commissioner Welcomes NRC Decision to Reject Indian Point Fire Safety Exemption Requests

Entergy has 30 days to provide plans, schedules for federal fire safety compliance

ALBANY, NY (02/02/2012)(readMedia)-- Jerome M. Hauer, Commissioner of the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES), today welcomed the decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which acknowledged New York State's concerns about fire safety at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, NY and denied fire safety exemptions requested by Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. for the nuclear facility.

The State's Office of Fire Prevention and Control filed extensive comments on May 11, 2011 in opposition to Entergy's request for numerous exemptions from fire safety requirements.

"I am pleased with NRC's decision to deny the vast majority of Entergy's requested exemptions from fire safety regulations at Indian Point," Commissioner Hauer said. "This important ruling is consistent with New York's long-held position that deviation from compliance with prevailing fire safety requirements at Indian Point creates an undue risk to our public's health and safety."

Yesterday, NRC announced that the "majority of requests for exemptions from fire protection requirements at Indian Points Units 2 and 3" were denied.

Fires at nuclear power plants in the U.S. can increase the risk of core damage by impeding the operation of safety systems. Between January 1995 and December 2007, 125 fires at 54 sites were reported to the NRC.

Fire safety exemptions granted by the NRC are based on the licensee's ability to demonstrate that they can achieve and maintain the nuclear power plant in a "safe shutdown condition" following a fire.

Rather than complying with specified fire safety requirements, such as fire detection, fire suppression, fire barriers and/or physical separations as a means to provide for the protection of various control cables, Entergy requested to employ substitute measures that would have relied on personnel to manually operate vital equipment.

In early December 2011, DHSES sent a letter to the NRC that raised questions regarding the timing of a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) regarding Indian Point's fire protection program. In the letter, Hauer pointed out that New York State had "filed extensive comments" prior to the December 2011 issuance of the FONSI and expressed "concern that Entergy's requests for many [fire protection] exemptions would create an undue risk for public health and safety."

"Manual actions should not be considered as a reliable means, or an equivalent method, to provide for critical operational control in a post-fire shutdown scenario," Hauer said. "Actual compliance with federal fire protective requirements is simply the best approach to maintain safe shutdown following a fire event."

Hauer said that Entergy must provide plans and schedules that demonstrate compliance with federal fire protection rules to the NRC within 30 days of the denial.

State Fire Administrator Bryant D. Stevens said, "One of the leading risk factors for a U.S. nuclear plant meltdown is fire. Assuming that a fire will be a rare event, and making fewer preparations for a potential fire, will result in a lower level of safety."