NRC's role in Indian Point leak included in probe

By SERGIO BUSTOS

Gannett News Service
Friday, June 09, 2000

WASHINGTON - The Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant - the subject of public outcry since a leak in its steam generators caused it to be shut down in February - now has federal investigators probing whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission itself is to blame for not properly regulating operations of the Buchanan, N.Y., plant.

George Mulley, an investigator with the NRC's Office of Inspector General, acknowledged Tuesday that his office is reviewing NRC actions over the past two years that were intended to ensure that Consolidated Edison Co. ran its aging plant safely and properly.

Mulley said key aspects of the investigation include:

  • Why NRC staff approved an inspection waiver in June 1999 that allowed Con Edison to delay inspection of its steam generators for one year.

  • Whether NRC inspectors overlooked any part of the 1997 inspection report, which was done by Con Edison and later approved by the NRC.

  • NRC's role when it was discovered that radioactive water was leaking from the plant's four aging steam generators into the Hudson River. At the time, NRC and plant officials said only a small amount of leakage had occurred.

Rep. Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, whose district includes the plant, has registered concern with the NRC about the leak.

Mulley declined to comment on whether the amount of leakage was being investigated or to provide additional details of the probe.

"We are about halfway through our investigation, but it's too early to come up with any sort of findings," he said. "We are looking at all these things to see if the NRC staff missed opportunities to take action."

The Inspector General's office, set up as an independent agency within the NRC, reports to Congress and NRC Chairman Richard Meserve.

Mulley said the investigation, known as an "event inquiry," is not unusual. It was launched in early March, weeks after the leak was discovered. A final report is to be issued next month, he said.

The plant has come under intense scrutiny from NRC officials at headquarters in Rockville, Md., and has prompted protests from environmentalists, nuclear power watchdog groups and members of Congress. The plant has been closed since the leak was discovered Feb. 15.

Kelly said Tuesday she has urged the NRC to keep Indian Point closed until the Inspector General's investigation is completed.

"It is clear that the public still does not have all of the facts," she said. "Questions remain and until they are answered Indian Point 2 must remain closed."

Con Edison officials recently asked the NRC to allow the plant to resume operations, proposing that the damaged steam generators be repaired.

Kelly, among others, has insisted that Con Edison replace the steam generators before the plant is restarted.

Con Edison's request came only weeks after the NRC increased its scrutiny of the plant from "routine" to "agency focus" - the highest of three levels the NRC uses to monitor nuclear plants. The shift in oversight came after NRC inspectors found several problems at the plant, including unreliable equipment, poorly trained staff and procedural weaknesses.

Indian Point is one of three nuclear power plants - out of 103 operating in the United States - under such NRC scrutiny.

While not able to force Con Edison to replace its damaged steam generators, the NRC can delay restarting the plant until the repairs are deemed satisfactory.

Environmentalists and other nuclear power watchdog groups have argued that the steam generators used at Indian Point 2, which was built by Westinghouse, have a history of problems. They said Indian Point is the nation's only nuclear plant still using the Westinghouse models.