“Peekskill – While the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was praising Indian Point for a year of satisfactory performance during public meetings here yesterday, Mark Jacobs was in the parking lot, waving a giant rubber stamp.
On it, one word summarized his disdain: W-h-i-t-e-w-a-s-h.
Entergy Nuclear Northeast “is mishandling so many aspects of this plant that it makes it easy for critics to point out mismanagement,” said Jacobs, a spokesman for the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, a group of citizen activists who favor closing the Westchester County facility. “The public is not going to stand for a whitewash by Entergy and the NRC anymore.”
Since 2000, the federal agency charged with regulating the nation’s 103 commercial nuclear reactors has graded Indian Point for safety and performance using a color-coded scale. The NRC announced yesterday that in 2005, the plant received a “green” rating, the highest possible.
The exemplary score was given despite a year filled with emergency siren failures, accidental shutdowns and a persistent leak of slightly radioactive water from a spent fuel pool on the banks of the Hudson River.
Regulators said yesterday that Indian Point operated in a manner that “preserved public health and safety,” thereby justifying the green rating.
But Indian Point critics – from environmental groups like Riverkeeper and Clearwater to Jacobs’ Safe Energy Coalition – disagree. During a news conference, the groups said the plant’s high marks amount to a free pass for an aging facility located in one of the most populated parts of the country.
“The NRC has overlooked these issues time and time again,” said Lisa Rainwater of Riverkeeper, as a phalanx of reporters scribbled away. Behind her, a mock report card giving Indian Point a failing grade of ‘D’ for 2005 mugged for the cameras.
“We feel enough is enough,” Rainwater said.
According to data compiled by Riverkeeper, safety issues at the nuclear reactors last year ranged from a supervisor drunk on the job in January to the discovery of a leaking spent fuel pool in September.
Other concerns included failed pumps and reactor parts, control rod malfunctions and delays in public reporting.
But Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman, said the groups’ grade school-type marks don’t do justice to the complexity of the federal ranking system. He said not all issues identified by Indian Point’s critics, while troublesome, constitute a chink in the plant’s safety record.
Siren failures are a perfect example, he said. Under NRC rules, more than 6 percent of the system’s 156 sirens would have to fail to justify a failing mark. That hasn’t consistently happened.
“If you look at it from our performance indicators, Entergy has been within our thresholds,” Sheehan said. “The statement that the NRC is indifferent to safety issues at the plant is really at odds with the facts.”
Entergy officials, too, take issue with claims they have failed to address plant safety. Fred Dacimo, Indian Point’s site vice president, said 2005 was a good year for operations; He promised this year will be even better.
“Improving Indian Point is a marathon, not a sprint,” Dacimo said. “While we’ve made progress, there are challenges that remain. Indian Point still has a long road ahead in 2006.””
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