NRC Rules On Contentions Raised For Indian Point Relicensing

Mar 20, 2015

Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne

As the relicensing process for New York’s Indian Point nuclear power plant crawls forward, federal regulators have issued decisions on contentions raised by the state and an environmental group.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week ruled on appeals involving two contentions in the Indian Point 2 and 3 relicensing process. One appeal was from New York State regarding transformers. NRC Spokesman Neil Sheehan explains.

“And the issue is whether or not Entergy needs to have a thorough maintenance and monitoring plan for those transformers. The Atomic Safety Licensing Board had ruled that these were passive components and therefore they did have to develop that sort of approach for these transformers,” says Sheehan. The Commission has said that no, in fact, transformers should be considered as active components because they power on and off periodically. And therefore they do not need to come up with that separate monitoring, maintenance plan for those.”

The second contention has to do with environmental justice, defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to environmental regulations and policies. Again, Sheehan.

“The Clearwater organization had challenged whether or not the emergency planning for the plant was appropriate in terms of how it could impact environmental justice communities in the vicinity of Indian Point. The Atomic Safety Licensing Board upheld that contention,” Sheehan says. “However, the Commission said that emergency planning is an ongoing activity, that it should not be considered in the realm of a license renewal application and therefore it was inappropriate for the judges to, the Atomic Safety Licensing Board judges to have accepted that contention for more review.” 

Clearwater Environmental Action Director Manna Jo Greene says that having raised the environmental justice question is historic in itself.

“Clearwater filed the first case relating to environmental justice in a nuclear relicensing process,” says Greene.

She adds:

“We looked at whether there are any disproportionate impacts to communities of color, low income, ethnicity, or people that were disabled, and whether or not relicensing Indian Point would have a disproportionate impact on environmental justice communities, members of environmental justice communities,” Greene says. “And we found that there was significant reason to be concerned.”

Greene refers to such communities as in Peekskill, in Buchanan-based Indian Point’s backyard. Sheehan says the Commission is unlikely to consider further review on these contentions though the parties can file suit in federal court. Greene says Clearwater has not decided whether to appeal. A request for comment from a state spokesperson was not answered in time for this broadcast. Jerry Nappi is spokesman for Indian Point parent Entergy Nuclear.

“We’re pleased, obviously, with the NRC’s actions,” says Nappi. “They resolved the appeal of both of those contentions in our favor. License renewal is an incredibly comprehensive process.”

Meanwhile, the commission that oversees the NRC has decided to take a closer look at one of the contentions in the appeals filed by New York State. As the NRC’s Sheehan explains, that contention has to do with SAMA, or severe accident mitigation alternatives.

“Basically what that means is when a plant applies for a license extension, they need to do an analysis to determine whether they should make any changes to the plant that would help mitigate the impacts of a severe accident. And they have to do that on a cost-effective basis,” says Sheehan. “So the state of New York had challenged the work that was done by Entergy at Indian Point. The Atomic Safety Licensing Board panel that considered the contentions did not rule in favor of New York State. However New York State appealed that and now the Commission itself is taking a closer look at that issue.”

Connecticut filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting New York’s petition for review. Entergy’s Nappi says the closer look is part of the relicensing process.

“We’ll respond on those technical issues, and we trust that we’ll be able to satisfy all the questions that have been asked,”Nappi says.

The license for Indian Point 2 expired in September 2013, and for Indian Point 3, it expires December 12, 2015.