On Friday, a major victory by New York State upset the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rubber stamp process to relicense the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. The historical decision by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled in favor of a petition served by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that argued the NRC's environmental review violated the law.
This was the first successful motion of its kind and it heralds the growing trend to battle "business as usual' when it comes to relicensing aging nuclear power plants who want to stay in business past their 40-year life expectancy. The AG alleged that the NRC and Indian Point owner Entergy violated federal regulations which allowed the utility company to omit key safety items that address accident analyses as part of their relicensing application.
The victory signals that the culture presumptive relicensing is finally beginning to change
The usual nod from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been the status quo for an approval that, so far at least, has been just about guaranteed. The NRC, the federal oversight agency for nuclear power plants, has never rejected a single application tendered by any utility company seeking to keep their reactors on line.
Recently, the NRC rubber-stamped two new licenses for the Salem Generating Plants in New Jersey. Owned by PSEG (Public Service Enterprise Group), the reactors are in Salem County, about 40 miles south of Philadelphia. The Salem reactors now top the list of the 66 nuclear power plants the NRC has re-licensed for another 20 years; the agency is reviewing applications for another 16 reactors.
But the days of uncontested, rubber-stamp relicensing may be drawing to an end. A new generation of legal warriors, armed with scheduled appeals and hotly debated contentions, have slowed some relicensing procedures to a glacial pace. Today, relicensing applicants may encounter committed opposition in high places they didn't bargain for.
Entergy, the utility company that owns the Indian Point Nuclear Power plants in Westchester, New York, applied for a new license in 2007 to keep their twin reactors running until 2033 and 2035. Their licenses expire in 2013 and 2015. Entergy's application incensed then Attorney General of New York, Andrew Cuomo, who claimed that a plethora of issues had been blatantly ignored. Two weeks ago, now Governor Cuomo, met with Entergy officials reiterating his fight to shutter the Indian Point.
Cuomo now has at his back a new law that streamlines the siting of new power plants that could potentially replace electricity from Indian Point. The State has put another roadblock in the way of relicensing the plant by denying Entergy's application for a Water Quality Certification, which is required for a new operating license. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said Entergy was appealing the decision.