“Law360, New York (January 04, 2010) — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is under assault from a New York state assemblyman and the Sierra Club, which allege the federal agency has failed to uphold necessary fire protections at Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point nuclear power plant.

Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky filed suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, accusing the NRC of illegally granting Entergy an exemption from insulation standards put in place to safeguard against a catastrophic fire at the facility.

The NRC has allowed Entergy to permanently avoid insulation requirements for the electric cables that control reactor shutdown in an emergency and are critical to protect against a meltdown, according to the complaint.

While the agency has historically required commercial operators to provide insulation that would protect the cables from fire for at least one hour, the Indian Point facility is permitted to operate with insulation that would withstand fire for only 24 minutes, the complaint argues.

In September 2007, the NRC granted Entergy an exemption from the insulation standards in violation of the Atomic Energy Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, the suit alleges.

“The ‘exemption’ was illegally granted in complete secrecy with no public notice, no opportunity for public comment, no opportunity to offer or question evidence, no public hearing,” the plaintiffs said.

“As a result of these actions Indian Point is not in compliance with the terms and conditions of its license and the laws and relations governing commercial nuclear reactors and is not operating with a greatly enhanced danger to the public,” the complaint added.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC, said the agency had not yet received a copy of the complaint, but emphasized the adequacy of the safety precautions at the Indian Point plant.

“We have a high degree of confidence that the Indian Point plant can safely cope with a fire situation,” Sheehan said. “They’ve developed plans, we’ve inspected them on a regular and ongoing basis and believe they properly protect the plant and public health.”

Brodsky and fellow plaintiffs Citizens’ Awareness Network and the Sierra Club originally filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but that court ruled in August 2009 that it lacked jurisdiction over claims for violations of the Hobbs Act, according to the suit.

In dismissing the suit, however, the appeals court encouraged the plaintiffs to pursue their claims in the district court under the APA, the complaint states.

The plaintiffs are represented by Brodsky.

Counsel information for the NRC was not immediately available.

The case is Brodsky et al. v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, case number 7:09-cv-10594, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

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