Friday, November 2, 2007

State wants Indian Point reviewed as if it were new

(Original publication: November 2, 2007)

Before Indian Point can extend its license to operate through 2035, federal regulators must evaluate the Buchanan nuclear plant as if it were applying for the first time, state environmental officials said yesterday.

Lawyers for the state Department of Environmental Conservation demanded that the current review be rejected as too generic and that factors such as emergency planning, the potential for terrorism attacks and earthquakes be looked at in depth.

"The environmental review requirements of federal law did not fully analyze or review the adverse environmental impacts of operation of these nuclear generating facilities when they were issued the original licenses," the DEC wrote in 19 pages of comments filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"The State of New York requests that the NRC conduct a full and thorough environmental review and will participate in every facet of that process," the DEC said.

Indian Point 2 was approved for its license in 1973 and Indian Point 3 in 1975; those run out in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Under current law, the NRC considers two major factors when evaluating whether a reactor that has reached the end of its 40-year operating license should be granted a 20-year extension:

- The environmental impacts of keeping the plant open.
- The operator's plans for managing aging infrastructure at the site.

The Environmental Protection Agency made similar demands this week when it weighed in on Indian Point's license renewal, but didn't ask for an evaluation that started from scratch.

NRC officials have basically said thanks, but no thanks, on the requests for tighter restrictions, noting that many of the issues raised are either reviewed continually or were evaluated before the plants opened.

"We've received the comments from New York state," said agency spokesman Neil Sheehan. "The NRC will respond to the comments as part of the scoping process."

Sheehan said the agency has already approved 48 of the country's 104 reactors using the relicensing guidelines.

Setting the bar higher for Indian Point to continue generating about 2,000 megawatts of electricity has been discussed since before Entergy Nuclear announced plans to seek 20-year extensions for Indian Point 2 and 3, nearly a year ago.

In February, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano went to federal court after the NRC denied his request for tougher criteria, including population growth in the region.

Others joined the call for tighter restrictions, including Rockland County and the state.

The case is pending, though Westchester County lawmakers are balking at the cost of pursing the legal challenge and want to leave it to the state's bigger posse of lawyers and deeper pockets.
Indian Point officials said they're willing to go into detail on any of the environmental issues facing the plant, to make the case to residents of the Hudson Valley for turning nuclear fuel into the region's electricity.

"If we didn't address the environmental concerns to the satisfaction of the regulators on an ongoing basis, we wouldn't be allowed to operate now, let alone for another 20 years," Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said.

Riverkeeper officials say, however, that the state is on the right road with its detailed concerns.
"Riverkeeper shares New York's serious concerns regarding terrorism, emergency evacuation failures, nuclear waste and the damage to Hudson River fish populations caused by Indian Point's outdated cooling system," said Phillip Musegaas, a policy analyst with the environmental group. "The NRC can no longer rely in good faith on an outdated, generic environmental study that ignores these critical issues in order to streamline the relicensing process for Entergy's benefit. The citizens of New York deserve better."

Reach Greg Clary at or 914-696-8566.

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