July 2, 2009: MARKEY & HALL: RESPONSE ON BURIED PIPES HAS HOLES

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, and Rep. John Hall (D-NY), made public a letter from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) responding to detailed questions posed by the two lawmakers regarding a major leak in buried water pipes at the Indian Point nuclear power plant and the NRC’s policies to ensure that the pipes are inspected nationwide. 

 

Rep. Markey said, “I am not satisfied with the NRC’s response to our detailed questions and I remain extremely concerned that buried water pipes at Indian Point and many other nuclear power plants are not being properly inspected.  Clearly, the inspection regime at Indian Point, whatever it actually is, was totally insufficient to detect a major leak in a critical system.  The NRC must demonstrate much more convincingly that it is addressing this issue with the seriousness required.”

  Rep. Hall said, “While I appreciate the NRC’s response, I am not satisfied that our questions have been fully answered.  The NRC has a duty to protect the public and serve as a watchdog.  That means that the NRC must not only answer critical questions related to Indian Point and but also to give the obvious problems there the serious attention they deserve. With eight percent of the U.S. population living within 50 miles of Indian Point, any breakdown there would be catastrophic. The recent incidents indicate a serious potential for disaster that must be understood and sufficiently monitored to prevent problems. The aging buried infrastructure at Indian Point cannot be ignored by the NRC and should be a major consideration in Indian Point's relicensing process.”

The lawmakers agreed that the NRC response left significant questions unanswered, including whether or not critical buried pipes are in fact being inspected and whether the degradation which led to the major leak at Indian Point might also exist on other buried pipes at the plant and at other nuclear reactors.  Reps. Markey and Hall have requested that the NRC provide more information in a full and complete briefing.

On February 16, 2009, a major leak was discovered in a key buried water pipe associated with a critical reactor cooling system at the Indian Point nuclear reactor, and this critical safety system was declared “inoperable” by Entergy, the plant operator.  Only a few weeks later, on April 3, 2009, the exact system which had been taken off line due to the leak was required to cool the reactor core during an unexpected reactor shutdown.  Fortunately, the system had been repaired by that time and functioned correctly; however, serious questions were raised about the NRC’s inspection program for buried pipes, which was clearly insufficient to catch the leak before it became a major problem.

  Among the statements in the NRC’s response that the lawmaker’s are seeking additional clarification about are the Commission’s statements:

That the Indian Point safety system which suffered a major leak was “capable of fulfilling its safety function” even though it was declared “inoperable” by the power plant operator;
That notwithstanding the major buried piping leak at Indian Point, buried piping has only suffered “minor problems”;
That the corrosion monitoring program at Indian Point “includes periodic inspections and assessment of underground service water piping” in compliance with the recommendations of NRC’s Generic Letter 89-13, even though Entergy’s License Renewal Application for the plant says only that “buried components are inspected when excavated for maintenance.”  Additionally, the Indian Point response to Generic Letter 89-13 states that “the  existing program does not routinely include underground pipe as part of its random selection process” for inspection; and
A list of causes of the leak at Indian Point including failure of the protective external coating, the placement of soil backfill around the pipe during original construction, and the placement of the pipe in proximity to the water table, but no indication whether or not these same factors could be degrading other buried pipe at the plant.
 

The NRC response can be found at: http://markey.house.gov/images/PDFs/nrc_reply_30_apr_ltr_redu.pdf

The April 30, 2009 letter from Reps. Markey and Hall can be found at: http://markey.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3715&I...