Indian Point Update

What do Indian Point and Toyota have in common? They both need to be recalled.  The recall process for Indian Point is called re licensing and it is now entering its last stage. The final environmental impact study will be released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in May. Things that concern ordinary citizens like the evacuation plan, traffic jams, population surrounding the plant, or catastrophic releases of radiation have long since been taken off the table as being outside the narrow scope of re licensing. The final safety report has already been released by the NRC and submitted to the Atomic Safety  Licensing Board, the agency which will make the official determination on re licensing. According to the NRC it showed no problems that could not be handled through an ongoing maintenance program. This includes the tritium and other fission byproducts that continue to flow toward the Hudson River.  

The legal arguments for denying the license renewal are called contentions and they have been filed by groups that have a legal standing in the matter. The number of contentions filed for closing Indian Point, 15, is a national record. The New York State Office of the Attorney General has filed 11 of these, Clearwater and Riverkeeper have filed others. More were submitted by grassroots groups such as the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition and WestCAN but were disallowed by the NRC and so never made it into the que for ASLB consideration. Later in the year this board will hold a final lengthy hearing to hear expert testimony on the remaining contentions and then, after consideration, deliver their judgment.

An amazing number of people have quietly worked incredibly hard for a long time in the submission and processing of these contentions, including the many that were eventually thrown out on narrow technical grounds. For a dedicated core group of experts the daily exchanges with the NRC over arcane rules and byzantine requirements has been highly frustrating. The NRC’s close collaboration with lawyers from Entergy, the owner of the plant, has been maddening but they have kept with it.  We owe these determined people and their organizations a debt of gratitude for their staunch support of our health and safety. The contentions range from the one Clearwater submitted on environmental justice to Riverkeeper’s focus on closed cycle cooling which would reduce water usage and fish kills by 98%.  The Office of the Attorney General has focused on more technical matters. Everyone is now preparing for the May hearing when final arguments will be made, including Entergy’s vast legal department. The hearings will run for several weeks in May. Watch for the dates and show up to thank these people and support their work. When all is said and done the ASLB will render judgement. Since every plant that has ever applied for license renewal has been approved, it is not hard to predict what the verdict will be for Indian Point. The deck has been stacked from the beginning.  The next step is an appeal to the Commissioners of the NRC and after that a case in federal court, perhaps leading to the Supreme Court.

In related developments the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which controls the discharge permits for Indian Point, has ruled that Entergy must go to closed cycle cooling at Indian Point as a perquisite for re licensing. This would reduce water usage by 98% and lessen the plant’s adverse impact on the Hudson River estuary as well as prevent the death of 2 billion fish per year through thermal pollution and entrapment and entrainment on the intake pipe. There are many ways to do closed cycle cooling and it is common in the industry to use devices that look and function like giant car radiators. Expect an all out ad campaign from Entergy decrying the need for "cooling towers" and the harm they will do to the viewscape and the "permanent fog" they would supposedly create as the company seeks to avoid this expense. Entergy has taken this matter to the Supreme Court. The court’s ruling did not eliminate cost benefit analysis from the Clean Water Act as hoped but neither did it require it. So it is not yet clear how this will be resolved. Entergy is also filing to spin off a new corporation, Enexus, which would own Indian Point and a huge amount of debt, but not much else. This dodge would also allow the company to escape contractual payments to the State of New York.  Staff of the Public Service Commission recommended that the spin off not be approved. They said that while it might be a good deal for Entergy stockholders, it was not a good deal for the taxpayers.  It now goes to the Commissioners of the PSC for their consideration. Representative Brodski has worked in concert with others on a fire safety issue that involves the NRC granting an exemption to Entergy when a fire safety door did not meet the NRC’s own standards. These issues are laying the ground work for future court cases.

While in these discouraging times it may not feel like it, the grassroots movement to close Indian Point has been an outstanding success.  It has galvanized elected officials from the state down to local communities and has resulted in more resistance to re licensing than has ever before been seen. It has also been closely watched across the country. Will it close Indian Point?  Quite possibly, the jury is still out. Once the action moved off the streets and into hearing rooms it became difficult for most people to keep involved and informed. However, grassroots activism still has a role to play. The current financial crises has contributed to moving Indian Point to the back burner for our Governor who has said he wants the plant closed. He needs to hear from voters to remind him of his obligation to lead on this.  Individual letters remain the gold standard for contacting elected officials.  Attorney General Cuomo has already tossed his hat into the race for governor. He understands the issues around Indian Point and it is under his direction that so many contentions have been filed. If the Office of Attorney General is vacant, who better to fill it than our friend Assemblyman Brodski? We must continually raise Indian Point as an issue in all elections from local to the county to the state level and not take anything for granted. Many of us were asleep at the switch during the last election for Westchester County Executive and so we now have an elected politician who wants to keep the plant open.

"Old fashioned" organizing, issue forums, phone banks and letter writing can well make the difference in what happens – so keep on organizing!  Call your local officials about Indian Point, talk to your friends and neighbors and keep them informed.  Write your letter to the Governor and if you have questions or would like to arrange an informational meeting call the toll free number for the Indian Point Safe Coalition at 1-888-474-8848.  You can also email [email protected]; be sure to put Indian Point Query in the subject line. By working together perhaps we can get congressional hearings just like Toyota and make it clear that we can find alternatives to Indian Point, stop producing deadly high level radio active waste, and eliminate a risk to an entire region of our country.