PEEKSKILL – The Indian Point nuclear power plants still have an
unacceptably high number of mechanical problems despite a major repair
and replacement effort that has cut its repair backlog by nearly 80
percent in two years, plant and regulatory officials said last night.
Officials at Entergy Nuclear Northeast, operators of the twin nuclear
plants in Buchanan, said last night that their efforts to repair the
aging plants are working and pledged to reduce their backlog of major
and minor mechanical problems to a level consistent with the rest of the
nuclear power industry. But officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory
Commission said the lingering equipment problems, even minor ones,
decrease the safety margins at the site and need to be corrected before
the agency relaxes its level of oversight of the facility. At an annual
performance review held in the Crystal Harbor Marina, Fred Dacimo,
Entergy’s vice president for Indian Point, said, “We continue to
make strides at the plants, but there continues to be work to perform
before we reach the level that we want.”

Indian Point 2, the most troubled of the two plants, had a backlog of
More than 5,000 repair items when Entergy purchased it from Consolidated
Edison in September 2001. The backlog of major repair items is now down
to 76, Dacimo said, and minor repairs are at 1,300. At Indian Point 3,
rated by the NRC as one of the best in the nation, the backlog of major
items is down to only 15, and minor repairs are at 841. Dacimo said the company
hopes to have the backlog of major items reduced to 15 at Indian Point
2, and the backlog of minor items to under 750 at each site. Entergy has
spent more than $500 million during the past two years to replace
unreliable or patched equipment in an effort to improve both
performance and safety. Yet, the continued presence of damaged or not
properly repaired items ranks as the major problem on the quarterly and
annual reviews by the NRC.

Hubert Miller, regional director of the regulatory agency, said that
although most repairs outstanding are for minor items, “that is still
equipment that is degraded.” “And though it hasn’t flat-out failed,
failure can occur at any time, so it is not inconsequential to have this
many items needing attention,” he said. Miller disclosed that workers at
the two plants had filed about 20,000 private reports with the utility
indicating problems in equipment or practices. He praised Entergy for
maintaining an open environment where workers felt free to criticize the
operations of the power plants. “But we are looking to see how you
evaluate their concerns and implement improvements,” he said.
Indian Point 2 shut down yesterday, a little more than an hour before
The meeting, because of a power failure attributed to Consolidated
Edison transmission lines.

Brian Holian, the NRC’s reactor project director, said, “The incident
today reminds me that there have been a couple of similar outages in the
past year, so there may be legacy issues” involving longstanding
practices or poorly working equipment that need to be addressed. Dacimo
also disclosed that control room operators at Indian Point 2 passed
their relicensing exams this spring with an average score of 91, and
operators at Indian Point 3 passed with an average score of 93.
Indian Point 2 has a “yellow” rating from the regulators, the agency’s
second worst, because more than half the control room operators failed
their exams a year ago. Since then, Entergy has replaced some of the
operators and retrained the rest.  Miller said the agency has just
completed a review of Entergy’s training program and will decide soon if
the “yellow” rating will be lifted. Earlier in the day, more than 300
representatives of environmental groups gathered in Albany to urge Gov.
George Pataki to publicly commit to closing Indian Point. During his
re-election campaign, Pataki pledged to base his decision on the future
of the plants on the results of a state study of the evacuation plans.
That report found that the plans would not work in a nuclear emergency.
The governor received the report in December, but has made no public
comment about his view of the evacuation plans or the plants’ future.

This article originally appeared in the Journal News