“Buchanan – The Indian Point nuclear power plant’s two reactors are operating safely, but efforts to fix problems that do come up “have produced mixed results,” according to an annual assessment by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The findings were released late last week as part of a yearly roundup of safety and performance ratings of U.S. nuclear reactors. The improvements at Indian Point mean that the NRC will scale back a level of scrutiny that had been stepped up in the wake of earlier problems.

Of the 18 performance indicators that NRC inspectors measured at each of the two reactors in 2003, only one fell short of a green ranking. Green is the highest ranking on the agency’s four-tiered, color-coded system. Indian Point 3 was hit with one white mark, a step below green, for its high number of unplanned shutdowns.

This is the first time in the four years that the color-coded system has been used that either Indian Point reactor has earned all green ratings.

A green rating does not mean that everything’s copacetic. Rather, it means that any problems that do exist are not thought to pose significant safety risks. “Green means, basically, you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

The environmental group Riverkeeper, which says the plant is unsafe and has called for it to be shut down, blasted the NRC’s findings.

Kyle Rabin, a policy analyst for the group, pointed to part of a March 3 letter from the NRC to Indian Point that mentions “relatively large elective maintenance and corrective action backlogs.”

“We feel that there’s a disconnect here between what’s in the NRC’s letter and what’s in its actual findings,” Rabin said. “It’s time for more scrutiny, not less.”

According to the NRC, Indian Point improved its standing by dealing with plant operators who had been failing license-renewal tests, and repairing a “degraded” control room firewall.

But problems remain, including an unusually high number of unplanned plant shutdowns. In December, the NRC said that Indian Point operators took too long to notify the commission earlier that year when it was knocked off-line by a lightning strike at an off-site switching station.

Jim Steets, a spokesman for Indian Point, said that most of the shutdowns, including the one resulting from the giant Northeast blackout Aug. 14, were beyond the plant’s control. He said both reactors have been running at full capacity since mid-August and that erasing the shutdown issue from the NRC’s list of concerns is just a matter of time.

Separately, the NRC is looking into safety concerns that were raised recently by a former employee about possible crossed wires at the plant. If warranted, the findings of that investigation would be included in next year’s report.

The NRC is planning to schedule a public meeting to discuss its findings sometime in late April. The date and place have yet to be set.”

This article originally appeared in the Times Herald-Record