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Crowd Fiercely Divided at Indian Point Safety Hearing

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – More than 200 people attended the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) presentation on Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant ’s Annual Safety Assessment by the federal agency. The meeting's fiercely divided crowd was bifurcated by post-Fukushima anxiety and economic support of the regional job-creator.

The largely anti-Indian Point audience responded to those in favor of keeping the nearly 40-year-old plants open for an additional 20-year period with boos, hisses and chants of “Shut it down!” Held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Tarrytown, N.Y., some members of the public came from as far away as Albany and Dutchess, Orange and Rockland counties to voice their opinions on the plants.

The NRC rated Indian Point with its highest safety indicators in 2011, “green,” and has already issued reports that said the plant can operate safely for the 20-year license renewal.

Members of the public expressed concern for a breadth of issues, including the plants' history of leaks, large spent fuels pools, radioactive waste produced by the plants, perceived influence held over the agency by the nuclear industry, regulatory exemptions granted by the agency in fire protection and the proximity of the plant to the New York metropolitan area. The plants are located in Buchanan, 35 miles north of New York City. About 17 million people live within 50 miles of the plant and the “emergency planning zone” for the plant extends 10 miles.

“The problem with the NRC’s Annual Safety Assessment for 2011 is that is fails to address the larger safety issues related to Indian Point; an inadequate and ultimately impossible to implement emergency evacuation plan, increasing population density, unfortified fuel pools that contain more spent, but highly radioactive fuel rods than in Fukushima, and seismic issues relating to the nearby intersection of the Ramapo and Stamford-Peekskill earthquake faults—all of which have been ruled out of scope in the relicensing process,” said Manna Jo Green, environmental director for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.

The annual meeting holds no bearing over the relicensing process, and Jerry Nappy, spokesperson for Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants, said Entergy, owner and operator of the plants, is confident the plants’ licenses will be extended for an additional 20 years.

“They have very rigorous, intensive inspections,” said Nappi about the NRC. “If that message is reiterated to the public, it helps reassure them.”

The plants produce about 2,000 megawatts of electricity, plant operators say about one-third of downstate New York’s power. Requests for the plants’ contracts with electricity distributors by New York State Assembly members James Brennan (D-Brooklyn) and Kevin Cahill (D-Woodstock) were denied by Entergy during a recent hearing held by the legislators.

Pressure on the plant is also coming from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the regional administrators of the federal Clean Water Act. The DEC denied the plants a Water Quality Certificate needed to continue using 2.5 billion gallons of Hudson River water daily. DEC officials said the plant must install a closed cycle cooling system before it will issue a Water Quality Certificate, the matter is currently being appealed.

Entergy began the 20-year license renewal process about five years ago, which will allow the plants to operate throughout the license renewal proceeding. More than a dozen contentions, the most ever in a relicensing proceeding, have been filed by the state, environmental organizations and other entities. All the contentions must be addressed before the three-judge Atomic Safety and Licensing Board can make a definitive decision on the 20-year renewal.

The court battle over contentions could itself take years, according to NRC Regional Administrator, William Dean.

In the event the plant is not relicensed, decommissioning the plant could have its own challenges. Dean said during a press briefing Wednesday that decommissioning a plant could take as long as 60 years depending on the scenario. Without a federal storage facility for high level radioactive waste, thousands of spent fuel assemblies in dry cask storage and in spent fuel pools could remain on the property indefinitely.

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