The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has responded to what it deems an exceptionally lengthy list of questions from a group that wants to see the Indian Point nuclear power plant shut down.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in June held its annual safety assessment meeting in Westchester County. The meeting followed the NRC’s review of safety performance at Buchanan-based Indian Point. No inspection findings were greater than green; that is, none of the findings exceeded very low safety significance. The public open house and meeting were to discuss the agency’s review. This year, the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, or IPSEC, whose members attended the annual public meeting as in previous years, sent a list of 30 follow-up questions in one letter, with other questions in other correspondence, to the NRC. Neil Sheehan is an NRC spokesman.
“It’s not uncommon for us to receive a variety of questions after any of our meetings, including annual assessment meetings,” says Sheehan. “What was a little bit unusual this time around was the volume of the questions, so it took the NRC staff a period of time before we were able to gather up the necessary information and respond to those.”
Marilyn Elie is with IPSEC.
“The primary and really the most important question I asked was does the NRC still stand by the statement made by a previous regional administrator Hub Miller that Indian Point cannot be relicensed without a water quality certificate, “ Elie says. “And the answer I got back was extraordinarily unsatisfactory. It said, we’re looking at the situation, which means they are looking to see a way around it, I am convinced.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2010 denied a water quality permit for Indian Point, a permit that is necessary for relicensing. Indian Point parent Entergy is contesting that denial and the permit case is being reviewed. Sheehan says it is unclear what the presidentially appointed five-member Commission will decide.
“The Commission gets advised by the Office of the General Counsel, and they’re going to have to look at precedents on other applications, what the law has to say about this,” says Sheehan. “These water permitting cases sometimes take many years to come to resolution. The question is, will, at that point when the Commission’s ready to make a decision, will the state review of the water quality permit already have been resolved. And if it’s not, how does the Commission handle that. What we’re saying is we don’t want to prejudge at this point what the Commission’s going to do.”
Here’s IPSEC’s Elie.
“It’s an issue with the agency that’s in bed with the industry. That’s the issue.”
And she adds this about the NRC meeting.
“They are there because they have to be there,” says Elie. “They assume that they’re going to have, figuratively, have pies thrown in their face. They’ll go home and wash up and go back to their business of getting Indian Point up and going. And they will check off the boxes they’re required to and that’s the end of it.”
Sheehan says the agency’s activities are under scrutiny in many ways.
“There are many checks and balance in place, like other federal agencies, we have an Office of Inspector General that can independently look at any concerns about whether the NRC’s not upholding its mission and whether there are any ethical challenges. We have congressional oversight committees look at our work on an ongoing basis.”
Asked whether the NRC has received any other mail from IPSEC since the questions, Sheehan replies:
“Well, funny you should mention that,” says Sheehan. “There was a letter from IPSEC, from Marilyn Elie of IPSEC, that just went to the NRC chairman’s office raising some new questions and concerns about the meeting and about Indian Point in general. So yes we have.”
That letter, dated July 29, is addressed to NRC Chair Dr. Allison McFarlane, and takes issue with the way in which this year’s safety meeting was conducted on a number of fronts. IPSEC’s Elie says that while her group on other occasions has corresponded with the NRC:
“Never like this, never like this,” says Elie. “And it was never with such determination and ire.”
Indian Point Two’s license expired in September, though the reactor will continue to operate until the NRC renders a decision. The license for Indian Point Three expires in December 2015.