The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Indian Point:  Nuclear plant hurdles


 By DIANE LEWIS

 The operating licenses for Indian Point expire in September 2013 for Unit 2 and December 2015 for Unit 3. Entergy Corporation, which owns the plant, is seeking 20-year extensions on the licenses for both reactors. For the first time ever, Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director for the Riverkeeper, said the relicensing hearings would have to consider concerns about waste storage, terrorism and evacuation planning.

Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy organization based in Westchester, together with the Natural Resource Defense Council and the New York State Attorney General, filed a suit against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in federal court asking that the Waste Confidence Decision be struck down and that terrorism, safety of storing nuclear waste at the site and evacuation planning need to be considered in relicensing.

According to Mr. Musegaas, the Waste Confidence Decision was put in place 20 years ago and updated in 2010. The policy stated that the NRC felt plant owners could safely store waste at plants for 60 to 120 years during and following operation of a plant. It stated that the NRC held there was no need for public environmental reviews, and the public could not raise concerns about on-site waste storage. The NRC postulated at the time that catastrophic pool fires were so unlikely they could be ignored in the review process. The U.S. Court of Appeals vacated the decision on June 8.

Mr. Musegaas said that the nuclear accident in Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant led to changes in the way the review process was considered.

According to Mr. Musegaas, radiation exposure and leakage from on-site waste storage at the Fukushima plant was a huge component of the disaster, and is leading to increased scrutiny of practices here. Without a designated long-term waste storage site in this country, spent fuel may need to be stored at reactors on a permanent basis. He said this ruling would change the scope of the review process and force the NRC to do an assessment of the waste storage issue with public participation prior to relicensing.


A decommissioning fund

 In a separate but closely related issue, the NRC released an analysis of the Decommissioning Funding Status report for Indian Point prepared by Entergy Corporation on June 20. These reports are designed to ensure that the company has enough money on hand dedicated to covering safe decommissioning of the plant. This entails removal and disposal of radioactive components and materials such as the reactor and piping, cleanup of radioactive or hazardous contamination, and restoring the site to greenfield status. These reports are required biannually, but starting in 2008, five years prior to relicensing, the reports were given greater scrutiny and are required to be site-specific, rather than generic for a plant of similar capacity.

The Decommissioning Funding Status report for Indian Point Unit 2 shows that Entergy currently has about $400 million in the account. The plan estimates the cost of decommissioning of Unit 2 at close to $1 billion. The fund was started by Con Ed when the reactor began operating and taken over by Entergy at the time of purchase.

NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan said that the June 20 report that “the analysis finds that the fund levels meet our requirements.” He said further that the approach outlined in this report would involve placing waste from Units 1 and 2 in SAFSTOR long-term storage at the site to allow more time for money to accumulate in the decommissioning funds for those units. SAFSTOR is a method of decommissioning that allows for decreased monitoring and maintenance once the plant has stopped generating energy. The waste needs to dissipate its radioactivity before the property can be returned to greenfield status or unrestricted use. If the waste were not removed from the property, the half life of many of the radionucleotides would not dissipate for many decades.

Mr. Musegaas said that in 2001 Entergy had promised Westchester County to decommission in a reasonable time after permanently closing. He said he does not feel the current plan honors that promise, or that the funding level is adequate.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has stated repeatedly that he thinks that Indian Point should be closed because it is too close to New York City and its densely populated suburbs. According to Mr. Musegaas, New York’s senators have not weighed in on the decommissioning decision.

The public can comment on the supplemental environmental impact statement until Aug. 20. To do so, go to nrc.gov.


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