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US: Indian Point ordered by NRC to analyse accident migitation measures

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

The United States' Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected a bid by Entergy, owner and operator of the Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River 35 miles from midtown Manhattan, to reverse an order to complete legally-required analyses of the facility's severe accident mitigation measures before it can be relicensed.

In the context of Indian Point's relicensing, the New York 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 2011, 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, in a December 2011 ruling, the NRC rejected the bid by Entergy to reverse the order to complete legally-required analyses of the facility's severe accident mitigation measures before it can be relicensed.

"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," attorney general Schneiderman's said on December 22, announcing the ruling.

The Indian Point nuclear plants are located in Buchanan, New York, 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.  A third reactor at the site was retired in 1974.

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

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. 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.

The measures include improvements in equipment, training or procedures. In its environmental review, Entergy identified 20 such measures at Indian Point Units 2 and 3, including flood protection and auxiliary power improvements.

However, the NRC did not require Entergy to complete analyses of those measures, or to require that the measures be adopted, thereby violating NRC's own regulations, as well as those of two laws. Despite an obligation to conduct a full review, both Entergy and the NRC sought to limit the severe accident analyses to a narrow set of components.

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.

In February 2011, Schneiderman 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.

Source: Sierra Club, Sierra Atlantic, Fall 2011 /  Environmental News Service, 4 January 2012
Contact: NIRS

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