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Indian Point Hearings Come To An End, For Now

This is the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearings, which are being held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Tarrytown.
This is the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearings, which are being held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Tarrytown. Photo Credit: Jessica Glenza

BUCHANAN, N.Y. — The hearings on Indian Point's renewal of its nuclear power plant license are done for the year, but appeals to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board cloud the road ahead, officials said. 

The volume of arguments, or "contentions," brought against Indian Point's 20-year license extension make it "inevitable" that there will be appeals by dissatisfied parties, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan said.

"We're in new territory when it comes to the Indian Point application just because of the large number of contentions that are under review," said Sheehan. The board is in Tarrytown through Friday and then has four more arguments to review next year.

The board acts as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's "lower court," just as a civil court acts as a lower court to an appeals court. In this case, New York State, the Riverkeeper and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater are arguing against aspects of the license extension of the Indian Point nuclear power plants, owned by Entergy Nuclear.

The final licensing decision on Indian Point is made by the commission, which is appointed by the president. "Like any appeals court," the five-member commission "can certainly overrule [the ASLB]," said Sheehan.

Additionally, the commission expects a second round of board hearings, called "tier-two contentions." Indian Point's application process has gone on for years, and the application must be updated by commission staff as new information becomes available, opening the door for "intervenors," such as Riverkeeper, to draft a new round of arguments. Those hearings are likely to be held by the board next year in Tarrytown.

Indian Point faces other challenges before it can receive a license or operate. If the plants receive a 20-year license extension from the commission, they still must pass muster with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which issues a water quality certificate that allows Indian Point to use 2.5 billion gallons of Hudson River water daily to cool its two reactors.

The plants were denied a certificate in 2010 and are attempting to settle the matter with administrative judges. Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said those hearings are likely to continue for the next "several years."

Until Indian Point receives a final decision on the application, the plants can continue operating. "We're confident that we've made a very strong case for license renewal," Steets said about the hearings in Tarrytown.

Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper, said, "I think Riverkeeper and New York state put on a very strong case against relicensing." 

Riverkeeper may have a better chance of stopping Indian Point's license renewal at the state level, which has already denied the water quality certificate, Musegaas said.

If the plants don't receive the required licenses, operators have up to 60 years to complete decommissioning work, Sheehan said. Entergy committed to "timely" decommissioning to Westchester County, Steets said, but couldn't say how long that would take.

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