Petition to Suspend Operations At the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant

On March 12, 2012, a year after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, AGREE and Beyond Nuclear filed a petition with the NRC asking for an emergency enforcement action against the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant in Scriba, New York. (Beyond Nuclear, a Washington DC-based nuclear watchdog organization). The petition asks for the immediate suspension of the plant's operating license, public hearings on the safety of the plant, and the public release of a post-Fukushima safety reassessment. (Read the press release)

Read the petition in full here. See the related documents here.

We hope you will join the petition as a co-signer. Read more.

The FitzPatrick reactor is one of 23 Fukushima-style Mark I Boiling Water Reactors operating in the United States and one of two in Central New York. In 1989, the NRC asked Mark I operators to install an experimental remedy to known design flaws: a Direct Torus Vent System designed to relieve pressure during a nuclear accident. NRC documents reviewed by Beyond Nuclear and AGREE show that FitzPatrick is the only Mark I plant operating in the U.S. that does not have such a vent. Instead, in 1992, the New York Power Authority, which was FitzPatrick's operator at the time, convinced the NRC that a pre-existing venting path was sufficient.

As described in a 1992 document from the NRC, the FitzPatrick venting strategy is to allow the venting of radiation and explosive hydrogen gas through the existing ductwork, portions of which are not designed to withstand the high pressures expected during a nuclear accident. The document describes how the radiation and gasses would be vented into a building adjacent to the main reactor building and how rising pressure would blow off the double doors that open to the outside, releasing the radiation at the ground level.

The plan, which was approved by the NRC, saved the operator $680,000. In approving the plan, the NRC wrote that it believed that combustion in the existing vent path was not a "significant risk."

AGREE and Beyond Nuclear point out in their petition to the NRC that the explosions during the Fukushima nuclear disaster call this assumption into question. In fact, a May 2011 post-Fukushima assessment of the plant suggests that the NRC and Entergy now believe the plant could be vulnerable to hydrogen explosions in the vent line in an accident scenario.

The groups' petition to the NRC does not ask the Commission to require FitzPatrick to install a vent like the other Mark I's in the US, since that Direct Torus Vent System was shown to fail during the nuclear accident at Fukushima. (Beyond Nuclear, along with 8,000 co-petitioners have challenged the Direct Torus Vent System with a separate petition to the NRC, filed last April.) Days after the groups filed their petition with the NRC, the Commission publicly released the details of its order that Mark I and Mark II Boiling Water Reactors should have "reliable" hardened venting systems. The NRC, however, gives the plants years to complete the process.

UPDATES:

  • On March 20, 2012, AGREE and Beyond Nuclear filed a supplement to their petition addressing the NRC's order and elaborating on the vulnerabilities acknowledged in the May 2011 inspection report.
     
  • On April 17, 2012, the NRC Petition Review Board held a hearing on the FitzPatrick petition. Speakers at the hearing included Jean Kessner (Syracuse Common Councilor), Linda DeStefano (Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club), Tim Judson (Citizens Awareness Network), Paul Gunter (Beyond Nuclear) and Jessica Azulay (Alliance for a Green Economy). See a report from the hearing here. View the webcast of the hearing here. And see media coverage of the hearing here.