BUCHANAN, N.Y. – Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants in Buchanan could have to wait for a final decision on its 20-year license renewal application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The NRC announced Tuesday that all final decisions to license new reactors, or renew a license, have to wait until the agency addresses a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The court ruled the NRC violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it improperly reviewed health, safety and environmental impacts of storing spent nuclear fuel at plant sites for up to 60 years past their closure. The agency's ruling is known as a "waste confidence decision."
"Because of the recent court ruling striking down our waste confidence provisions, we are now considering all available options for resolving the waste confidence issue," wrote the NRC. "We have not yet determined a course of action." The agency said scheduled licensed reviews would continue in the interim.
"The public will be afforded an opportunity to comment in advance on any generic waste confidence document that the NRC issues on remand—be it a fresh rule, a policy statement," the NRC wrote.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman lauded the agency's announcement. New York was one of four states in a suit that accused the NRC of violating NEPA.
“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. Despite this, the NRC has refused my repeated requests to address the serious risks of long-term, on-site storage of nuclear waste in Indian Point's relicensing proceeding. In light of my recent federal appeals court victory and a related contention I filed last month in the relicensing proceeding, however, it appears that the NRC has finally changed course," said Schneiderman.
"I don't think there's any expectation that the NRC will be granting licenses since the hearings have just begun," said Entergy spokesperson, Jim Steets, saying the ruling would not affect Entergy's relicensing schedule for Indian Point.
NRC officials said they do not expect a ruling on 40-year-old Indian Point's license renewal until "at least" 2013, and confirmed that spent nuclear fuel storage is not considered during license renewal. Neil Sheehan, NRC spokesperson, said spent fuel storage "should be reviewed on an ongoing basis, not just in the snapshot we're looking at a license renewal application."
Sheehan said the only proposal for a long-term geologic storage site, at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is no longer being actively considered.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hear 10 contentions concerning Indian Point's license renewal in October in Tarrytown. Since the Circuit Court's decision, more joint contentions between Riverkeeper, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and New York State have been filed.