December 10, 2012 – A recent spate of emergency shutdowns at the Nine Mile Point and FitzPatrick nuclear reactors near Oswego, NY is far above the industry average, according to an analysis of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) data by Alliance for a Green Economy.
In the last four months, Nine Mile Point Unit 1 has had three emergency shutdowns, six times the industry average for the whole year of 2011. The FitzPatrick reactor has had two emergency shutdowns in the same time period, still well above the industry average of less .45 per year reported in 2011 by the NRC’s annual Industry Trends Report. The shutdowns have resulted from equipment failures and fires at the reactors, leading to safety alerts on two occasions this fall. Together with unplanned power-downs to address recurring equipment problems, these performance problems raise concerns about whether plant operators are doing an adequate job of maintaining the reactors to ensure safety.
The Alliance for a Green Economy analyzed publicly available data from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in order to find out whether recent reported problems at the plants near Oswego were out of the ordinary.
“We are providing this data as a public service because it is difficult to find out from the NRC website how any one plant is doing compared to its peers unless you know exactly where to look and how to dig for it,” said Jessica Azulay, organizer for Alliance for a Green Economy. “Once we started digging, we realized how unusual it is for nuclear plants to have so many shutdowns in such a short time period. Nine Mile 1 and FitzPatrick are having more problems than most other nuclear plants in the U.S., and those of us living within the fallout zones of these plants deserve to know that.”
Nine Mile Point Unit 1, which is one of the oldest operating reactors in the U.S., had an emergency shutdown rate that was worse than the industry average in 2011 and 2010 as well. Nine Mile Point also has a radioactive tritium leak, which has dragged on for three months without the operator, the NRC, or other government agencies finding the source.
FitzPatrick has had fewer emergency shutdowns this year. However, the plant had two consecutive emergency shutdowns this month, the second of which was a result of a fire that burned for hours and ruined the plant’s main transformer.
Before these latest emergencies, FitzPatrick’s operator, Entergy, bragged of “breaker-to-breaker” service because the reactor operated between fueling outages without going offline. However, an analysis of NRC data shows that while the reactor never powered down completely during that period, it has been plagued with problems causing an above average number of unplanned partial outages. In 2011, FitzPatrick had 3.2 unplanned power changes per 7,000 hours of operation, as compared to the industry average of .8, putting FitzPatrick at four times the industry average. An analysis of power changes at FitzPatrick shows it is on track for a worse-than-average year in 2012 as well. In the first nine months of this year, the operator partially powered down the reactor for maintenance 11 times, mostly for recurring issues.
“What Entergy is doing with FitzPatrick is like trying to fix a car while driving it down the highway,” said Tim Judson, president of Citizens Awareness Network, a nuclear watchdog group that has been working in Central New York since 1998. “The high rate of unplanned power changes followed by the above average number of emergency shutdowns this year make us concerned that Entergy is prioritizing profit over maintenance and safety, and stretching FitzPatrick past its limit.” He continued, “Instead of powering down the reactor for needed repairs, it looks like Entergy is rushing repairs to keep the reactor online, which has not only compromised the plant’s reliability as a source of electricity but may be resulting in increasingly serious equipment failures and emergency shutdowns.”
NRC Industry Trends Report (2011)
FitzPatrick Assessment (3Q 2012)
Nine Mile Point 1 Assessment (3Q 2012)
FitzPatrick Inspection Reports 2012:
Nine Mile Point 1 Inspection Reports 2012: