Spent Rod Storage Could Hold Up Indian Point Relicensing

Indian Point Energy Center
Indian Point Energy Center

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] will not be granting new or renewed operating licenses for any nuclear power plant anytime soon. This includes the relicensing of units 2 and 3 at Indian Point.

The NRC issued a Memorandum and Order on August 7 suspending the issuance of final licensing of any nuclear power plants until the commission can determine the best method of handling the spent nuclear rods.

The order comes following a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 8 that struck down the commission’s finding that the long-term storage of radioactive waste at the nation’s nuclear power plants is safe and has no significant environmental impacts.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in January 2011 by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his counterparts in New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont over a relicensing application for Indian Point.

The court invalidated the regulation and remanded the matter back to the NRC with a directive that the commission fully comply with federal law concerning the storage of radioactive waste.

“Because of the recent court ruling striking down our current waste confidence provisions, we are now considering all available options for resolving the waste confidence issue, which could include generic or site-specific NRC actions, or some combination of both,” read the memorandum from the NRC that was sent out to the parties currently going through the relicensing process. “We will not issue licenses dependent upon the Waste Confidence Decision or the Temporary Storage Rule until the court’s remand is appropriately addressed.”

The appeals court found that spent nuclear fuel rods stored on site at power plants, “pose a dangerous, long-term health and environmental risk.” A national waste storage site was proposed at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert, but the Obama administration nixed that decision in 2010. The NRC has yet to determine another plan for the storage of the spent rods.

“The storage of nuclear waste at nuclear power facilities poses long-term health and environmental risks, including the risk of leaks from spent fuel pools and fires,” said Schneiderman in response to the memorandum issued by the NRC. “Today, in a victory for the 17 million people living and working close to Indian Point, the NRC has committed to addressing the risks posed by long-term nuclear waste storage at the facility before making any relicensing decisions.  The NRC’s commitment is a welcome step toward ensuring a full, fair and open examination of the numerous critical questions about the safety and environmental impact of Indian Point before any decisions are made about extending its operating licenses for another 20 years.”

The NRC is only suspending the issuance of final licenses. In its memorandum it said, “All licensing reviews and proceedings should continue to move forward.”

The next step in the relicensing process for units 2 and 3 of Indian Point, which are due for licensing renewal in 2013 and 2015, respectively, is a series of public evidentiary hearings by the Atomic Licensing and Safety Board which are set to begin on Monday, Oct. 15 at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown at 1 p.m.  Additional hearing dates include Oct. 16 to Oct.18, Oct. 22 to Oct. 24 and Dec.10 to Dec.14.

The Atomic Licensing and Safety Board, which consists of three administrative judges who are independent of the NRC, will be hearing arguments that are pre-filed and vetted. More than 10 contentions have already been submitted and scheduled.

While the public is welcome to attend the hearings, which are conducted in a format similar to the Supreme Court, the notice warns that due to the nature of several of the contentions portions of the hearings will be closed to the public.

Those wishing to submit a written limited appearance statement to express their position on the issues concerning Indian Point can send emails to hearing.docket@nrc.gov and anne.siamacki@nrc.gov. The deadline for limited appearance statements is Sept. 15.

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