New York State Wins Review of Nuclear Plant Accident Plans

NEW YORK, New York, January 4, 2012 (ENS) – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected a bid by Entergy, owner and operator of the Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River, to reverse an order to complete legally-required analyses of the facility’s severe accident mitigation measures before it can be relicensed.

In July, New York Attorney General Schneiderman’s office won that decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

“It is a significant victory that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission firmly rejected an effort by Indian Point’s owner to reverse a landmark federal ruling, won by my office, that the facility cannot be relicensed until legally-required analyses of its ability to control severe accidents are completed,” the attorney general said on December 22, announcing the ruling.

“Indian Point must follow regulations to protect the public and control the effects of a potentially severe nuclear accident,” said Schneiderman.

The Indian Point Energy Center is located in Buchanan, New York, a village in northern Westchester County approximately 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan. It is situated in the most densely populated region of any U.S. nuclear plant.

The site has two nuclear reactors that supply power to Con Edison, which serves New York City and Westchester County. The reactors generate enough electricity to supply some two million homes.

Indian Point nuclear power plant on the east bank of the Hudson River (Photo courtesy Riverkeeper)

A third reactor at the site was retired in 1974.

Entergy is seeking to relicense Indian Point for another 20 years.

“While Entergy might prefer to treat severe accidents as impossibilities, the millions of people who live and work near Indian Point rightfully expect more. My office will continue to take every action necessary to ensure Indian Point complies with all applicable laws and regulations, and that the surrounding communities are protected,” Schneiderman said.

Current evacuation and mitigation plans cover only the area within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear reactor, which, in many cases, may not be adequate. In Japan, high contamination levels were recorded far beyond 10 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant and the NRC recommended that U.S. citizens evacuate a 50-mile radius of the damaged facility.

The 2010 U.S. population within 50 miles of Indian Point was 17.2 million, an increase of just over five percent since 2000. Cities within the 50 mile radius include New York; Newark, New Jersey; Stamford and Bridgeport, Connecticut.

As part of the relicensing proceeding, nuclear power plants are required to identify the environmental impacts that could be caused by a severe accident and provide analyses of measures that facilities could take to protect the public if one were to occur.

In its environmental review, Entergy identified numerous such measures at Indian Point Units 2 and 3, including flood protection and auxiliary power improvements.

In the context of Indian Point’s relicensing, the attorney general’s office argued that the NRC has the obligation to require Entergy to complete analyses of cost-beneficial measures, or to require that the measures be adopted – consistent with NRC’s own regulations, as well as those of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

On July 15, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued a decision, agreeing with the attorney general that Indian Point cannot be relicensed without completing the legally-required analyses of its severe accident mitigation measures.

Now, Schneiderman says, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must require Indian Point’s owner, Entergy, to either adopt cost-effective upgrades that would improve responses and control the impact of a severe accident, or provide a compelling reason why it will not do so.

Schneiderman has taken other actions to improve regulations and safety at Indian Point, including some that could impact nuclear plants nationwide.

In February, he sued the NRC for authorizing the storage of radioactive waste at nuclear power facilities for at least 60 years after they close, without first conducting the necessary environmental, public health and safety studies.

Recently, Schneiderman joined a petition urging the NRC to reexamine operating limitations at the aging Indian Point reactors and lower the reactors’ operating temperatures to increase safety and reduce the risk of meltdown in the event of an accident.

The attorney general also has called upon the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to undertake a comprehensive, transparent and fair review of seismic risk before completing the Indian Point relicensing proceeding.

An environmental group has filed a report with the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that raises further questions concerning Entergy’s application to relicense the Indian Point nuclear reactors for another 20 years.

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater is one of three parties challenging Indian Point’s relicensing.

Clearwater Environmental Director Manna Jo Greene says that if an emergency should arise, evacuation would be quite difficult, especially for people who rely on public transit.

The other two parties are Riverkeeper and the state of New York. At an NRC hearing set to begin in the spring, they plan to argue that it is time to close Indian Point, not relicense it.

Phillip Musegaas, Riverkeeper Hudson River program director, says, “It’s an historic case because it’s the first time a state has opposed relicensing. The attorney general of New York is on our side.”

“And it’s historic because of the number of issues that the NRC will consider,” says Musegaas. “We have 16 different issues that will be heard, ranging from nuclear engineering to safety and environmental concerns.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.