One year ago on March 11, an earthquake and tsunami the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants in northeast Japan and caused a nuclear meltdown and release of radiation. The disaster displaced hundreds thousands and the immediate area surrounding Fukushima remains a ghost town today. As the world reflects on the catastrophic events and the people affected by them this month, we will be bring you updates about Entergy's nuclear power plant in Buchanan, New York and its opponents. Here is the first article in a series of several.
Indian Point License Renewal Review and Update
Entergy submitted its License Renewal Application to renew the licenses to operate Indian Point Nuclear Energy Center Units 2 and 3, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2007. Unit 2’s license expires in 2013 and Unit 3’s expires in 2015. The application requested a joint license renewal for both units.
Because Entergy filed the required five years before Unit 2’s license would expire, even if the NRC does not reach a final decision by the expiration date, Indian Point will be allowed to continue operation, as long as the NRC is still considering its application. Which means IPEC can still operate even if the NRC has not made an official ruling by 2013.
Following IPEC’s application in 2007, the NRC staff issued a final report on August 11, 2009, and an environmental impact statement on Dec. 3, 2010.
“In both statements the staff indicated that they did not see anything that would preclude it from recommending a license renewal for Indian Point,” said Neil Sheehan, NRC spokesman. But the reports are not the final word, because since the LRA was submitted in 2007, a number of contentions have been raised by various environmental groups, including New York State, Riverkeeper and Clearwater.
Contentions include arguments that Indian Point is too old to continue to operate safely and that Entergy’s plans do not adequately address environmental and safety needs over the next 20 years. (You can read the contentions in the PDF attached to this article).
An NRC branch, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) will hold hearings on the 15 contentions, most likely by the end of 2012, according to Sheehan. (As of July, 2011, there were 15 official contentions filed and accepted by the ASLB).
“This will not be a simple undertaking because there are a significant number o contentions before the three judge panel,” Sheehan said. “The number of contentions is a moving target because parties can dismiss them.” Parties can also add contentions, but they must prove that new and specific information that could not have been raised earlier has become available.
“This will be the most contentious hearing in the history of nuclear energy,” said Paul Gallay, President of Riverkeeper, one of the nation’s most outspoken Indian Point critics.
Once contentions are heard there are several things that could happen: the judges could dismiss the contention; could find that IPEC has already addressed the problem or has a plan in place to address it so the contention is moot; the judges could uphold the contention and require IPEC to take action and grant it relicensing pending their action on that item; it can decide that the contentions are all valid and cannot be adequately handled and deny the renewal of Indian Point’s licenses.
Both parties then have a short period of time (30 or 60 days) to appeal the decisions on each contention, Sheehan said.
At that point a five member NRC commission, which heads the NRC, will consider the appeals and rule when it is ready.
As stated above, because Entergy submitted its application five years before the licenses expire, it is covered by an NRC “timely renewal provision” which means it can continue to operate even when initial license runs out as long as the NRC’s review is still underway, according to Sheehan.
The relicensing process does not look at spent fuel storage or emergency planning, including evacuation plans, because those areas are reviewed by the NRC on an ongoing basis, Sheehan said.
“With renewal, we focus on a plant’s aging management program. How do they demonstrate that key structures and components will be able to operate the way they should for the next 20 years and what is the potential environmental impact if they continue to operate?” Sheehan said.
Critics of Indian Point and nuclear energy say that the license renewal process should take a broader look at other issues related to radioactivity, risks, disasters and safety.
“Serious issues have been narrowed out of scope (in the relicensing process),” said Manna Jo Greene, Environment Action Director for Clearwater, another anti-nuclear group that has contentions filed.
Entergy and the groups who will have their contentions heard by the Atomic Licensing Board will go to hearings some time this year, most likely by late summer, according to Sheehan.
Keep with Patch to stay informed of the hearing dates once they set and other important news regarding Indian Point.
This is just one article in a series of several articles about Indian Point, to be published surrounding the March anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. Read more about Indian Point here.
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