“Indian Point Faces New Challenge From Opponents” by Matthew L. Wald
“WASHINGTON — An antinuclear group filed legal papers with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday evening opposing the relicensing of the Indian Point 2 nuclear reactor in Westchester County.
As a result, a panel of judges must consider the validity of the assertions — setting the stage for a long and contentious new chapter in the dispute over the plant and its companion, Indian Point 3.
There is already strong opposition to the relicensing of other nuclear power plants, including Oyster Creek in southern New Jersey and Vermont Yankee, which is on the Connecticut River just north of the Massachusetts border. Panels of three administrative law judges are studying those applications as well.
A hearing is scheduled to begin Monday in Toms River, N.J., on the request for a 20-year licensing extension of Oyster Creek, the oldest commercial reactor in the country, and a hearing is also likely for Vermont Yankee. Another three-judge panel is considering hearings for the Pilgrim nuclear plant, in Plymouth, Mass.
The antinuclear group, Friends United for Sustainable Energy, or FUSE, of Spring Valley, N.Y., contends that for decades, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, improperly held the Indian Point reactors, which are in Buchanan, N.Y., to less stringent design requirements than those the government applied to newer plants.
The requirements, which lay out in broad terms what safety precautions must be built into a plant’s hardware, were often changed in the 1960s and early ’70s, when the Indian Point reactors were built. According to the petition by FUSE, the builders claimed at one point that they met the draft criteria, but actually met only the criteria the nuclear industry was lobbying for.
The commission itself focused on precisely what standards were used, and what should have been used, when it analyzed the plant again in the early 1990s. In 1992, the commission decided not to require Indian Point to meet the criteria for newer plants.
“You don’t start from scratch,” said a spokesman for the commission, Neil Sheehan, on Friday, describing the decision to consider relicensing the plant now without making it comply with rules approved after its completion.
But FUSE argues that the 1992 action was a violation of a federal law designed to ensure fairness in administrative procedures. And the failure of the builders to heed the requirements that applied to newer plants “substantially reduces safety margins,” the group contends.
Entergy, which owns the reactors, insists that the plant was safe as built and still is.
FUSE also charged that Entergy has failed to submit an adequate plan for maintaining safety at the plant as its components age. The operators are promising merely to reach agreement later, thereby limiting public input, the group said.
But James Steets, a spokesman for Entergy, said in a telephone interview that it was in the nature of such maintenance plans that they evolved as the plant aged, and that “you never finish.”
Entergy bought Indian Point 2 from Consolidated Edison and Indian Point 3 from the New York Power Authority. The reactors are now owned by separate subsidiaries of Entergy. Plant opponents have argued that this is a legal strategy to limit the corporation’s liability in the event of an accident.
They now contend that because the reactors are separately held, Entergy cannot submit one application for renewal of both licenses. The opponents also note that while the two plants are of similar design, construction was managed by different engineering companies.
The application, according to FUSE, “creates an avalanche of a mixing of safety, technical and environmental issues caused by comingling.”
But Entergy, the first operator at the site to run both reactors, has been trying to integrate their operations. Mr. Steets said that the differences in the plants were accounted for in the details of the application for the extension, and that Entergy was seeking, for financial reasons, to bring them under the ownership of a single subsidiary.”
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