Nuclear plant hearings starts TODAY

Dear Friends,
Below are two articles on the upcoming hearings (click on "more" for hearings schedule info). What is amazing – and is very much the result of the grassroots effort is this:
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said of the agency's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. "Keep in mind that with Indian Point, this is the largest number of contentions that have been submitted in a license-renewal proceeding." It's also the first time that the host state has so strongly opposed an extension.
Score one point for democracy.

click on "more" for full text/letter

March 9, 2008

Nuclear plant hearings start tomorrow

Greg Clary The Journal News

BUCHANAN - Indian Point's application to continue making electricity through 2035 comes to a White Plains courthouse this week, where a three-person panel will ask detailed questions of opponents seeking to stop the plant from getting a 20-year license renewal.

Those who have filed arguments against the relicensing application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission include the states of New York and Connecticut; Westchester County and the town of Cortlandt; and environmental groups such as Riverkeeper and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.

A consortium of grass-roots organizations represented by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, and Spring Valley lawyer Susan Shapiro has been given an April 1 hearing date at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., because of scheduling conflicts.

The issues to be raised in the three days of hearings include the region's dense population and the chances for success during an emergency evacuation, as well as the nuclear plant's impact on Hudson River aquatic life.

"They have so much ground to cover," NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said of the agency's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. "Keep in mind that with Indian Point, this is the largest number of contentions that have been submitted in a license-renewal proceeding."

It's also the first time that the host state has so strongly opposed an extension.

Of the 48 other nuclear reactors that have appealed for 20-year extensions to their initial 40-year operating licenses, none have been turned down. The NRC is reviewing license renewal applications for another 11 of the nation's 104 reactors. There is no limit to the number of extensions that a reactor can receive.

Entergy Nuclear, the plant's owner and operator, will have its team of legal and engineering experts to counter opponents' arguments, in what Sheehan said would include a lot of back and forth between the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board and the participants.

Without the license renewals, Indian Point 2 would have to close in 2013, and Indian Point 3 in 2015.

Westchester County will lead off the 10 a.m. hearing tomorrow by asking to be linked to the state's 32 contentions as a full participant rather than an "interested government body."

The county didn't submit its own contentions, which according to NRC regulations should keep its lawyers from directly participating, but have since requested a chance to be included with the state.

As to the substance of some of the nearly 100 contentions submitted against the extension, the state's top lawyer will be the first to speak.

"This is such a unique proceeding before the NRC," said Joan Leary Matthews, who as a deputy New York attorney general beat the car manufacturers in the 1990s on a case that ultimately required tighter pollution controls on new vehicles. "We don't even know if they're going to ask us questions about every one (of the state's 32 contentions)."

The state's list of problems with the 20 extra years dovetails with Riverkeeper's in a couple of areas:

- The nuclear plant's use of Hudson River water to cool its operation and the resulting release of warmed water, known as thermal pollution.

- The need to accurately gauge metal fatigue in critical infrastructure at the plant, including underground piping.

Riverkeeper officials said they expect to bring three lawyers and four experts, including a retired nuclear engineer and a specialist in aquatic habitats.

"This is a really important day or week," said Diane Curran, the organization's outside counsel. "The contentions that are admitted will determine the scope of the hearings. There isn't anything else that gets heard by these judges. So, for us, this is kind of like the gateway."

NRC officials said the board would not make any determinations in the coming week about which arguments will be accepted for further review or who will make the cut to be a direct participant.

That is slated to be completed within the next two months. After that, appeals must first go through the NRC itself, a five-member board that sets policy for the agency. Beyond that, those who aren't satisfied with the agency's decision could seek relief in federal courts.

Riverkeeper and New York State officials said they were prepared for that, if necessary.


March 6, 2008

Arguments start on Indian Point license renewal
By Abby Luby North County News

Groups opposed to renewing Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant’s operating license will have a chance to argue their cases in public next week.

Starting Monday, a panel of three judges will ask state and local governments and environmental organizations about contentions that they filed last November against the re-licensing application made by Indian Point’s owner, Entergy Nuclear. The judges make up the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel, an independent judicial arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal oversight agency for nuclear power plants.

The myriad contentions against renewing Entergy’s operating license generally claim that the 40-year-old plant is no longer safe. Three years ago, leaks of radioactive tritium and strontium-90 from the spent nuclear fuel pools were found in the groundwater beneath Indian Point and in the Hudson River. Also, Entergy has missed two deadlines in the past year to fix the failing siren system that alerts people within 10 miles of the plant of emergencies.

“The aim here is to allow the judges to gain a better understanding of the issues that have already been submitted in the contentions,” said Neil Sheehan, spokesperson for the NRC. “If there is new information it has to be filed under a separate motion.”

Entergy seeks a 20-year extension of its current 40-year operating license set to expire in 2013 and 2015 for Unit 2 and 3 reactors. The new license will allow the Buchanan facility to stay on line until 2033 and 2035. The re-licensing process, which could take up to two years, was started in April 2007 when Entergy submitted its 2,500-page application to the NRC. The NRC has never denied a license renewal application by a utility company.

Margo Schepart of the Westchester Citizens Awareness Network, a grass roots organization seeking to shut down the plant, said that filing contentions was difficult, expensive and required legal consultation.

“The NRC tried to knock us out every step along the way and now we made it through their hoops,” she said. “We look forward to meeting the panel of judges face to face.”

The NRC has consistently said that the re-licensing process looks only at how aging plants are managed and whether operating components within the plant can keep the utility running safely. In 2007, Westchester County Executive Andy Spano petitioned the NRC to change the re-licensing criteria to include emergency evacuation plans, proximity to dense population areas and vulnerability to terrorist attacks. The NRC denied the petition and Spano appealed it to the United States Court of Appeals where it is still pending.

Two bills currently in Congress propose that a mandatory Independent Safety Assessment review (ISA) of Indian Point be a condition for a new operating license. The ISA would be done by specialists not connected with the utility or the NRC. One bill is sponsored by New York Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). The Congressional bill was introduced over a year ago by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-Middletown) and was co-sponsored by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx), Nita Lowey (D-Harrison), and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and John Hall (D-Dover Plains). The bill is still in the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Several counties and municipalities that have already passed ISA resolutions supporting the pending congressional bill include Westchester and Rockland County, Croton, Ossining, Beacon, Putnam Valley, Ramapo and Cortlandt.

The NRC has claims that the plant already undergoes independent assessments by independent contractors not connected with the oversight agency.

Spearheading the opposition for New York State at the hearings will be Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who will be joined by five other states attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky and Vermont. Scheduled to appear before the panel on Monday are Westchester County and the State of New York; Tuesday: The Town of Cortlandt, the State of Connecticut and Riverkeeper; Wednesday: Hudson River Sloop, Clearwater and Connecticut Residents Opposed to Relicensing of Indian Point (CRORIP); Thursday: Westchester Citizens’ Awareness Network, Rockland County Conservation Association, Public Health and Sustainable Energy and the Sierra Club.

The judges for the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel are Lawrence McDade, chairman; Dr. Kaye Lathrop and Dr. Richard Wardwell.

The sessions, open to the public for observation only, will be held at the Richard J. Daronco Courthouse, 111 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. in White Plains. They are scheduled to start at 9 a.m. most mornings and run to 5 p.m. The judges can continue the discussion into the next day, if needed.

Schedule of Hearings

March hearings on the Indian Point license extension application, will be held at the Richard J. Daronco Courthouse, 111 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., White Plains. The proceedings are open to the public.

Tomorrow: Westchester County, the state of New York.
Tuesday: The town of Cortlandt, the state of Connecticut and Riverkeeper Inc.
Wednesday: Riverkeeper Inc., Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc. and Connecticut Residents Opposed to Relicensing of Indian Point (CRORIP).
April 1: NRC headquarters, Rockville Md. – Westchester Citizen’s Awareness Network; Rockland County Conservation Association; Public Health and Sustainable Energy; Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter

Michel Lee, Esq.
Steering Committee
Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition

Council on Intelligent Energy
& Conservation Policy
P.O. Box 312
White Plains, New York 10602
(914) 420-5624