Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New York finds new reasons to litigate over Indian Point

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gets two other states to join him

schneiderman_profileNew York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (right) announced Feb 15 that he is suing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) over storage of spent nuclear fuel for up to 60 years after the Indian Point reactors are taken out of service.

The lawsuit has the political objective of creating a sense of inevitability, that is a public perception, that the twin reactors will be closed rather than re-licensed by the NRC.

By raising the issue of long-term storage of spent fuel in dry casks, Schneiderman is implying that decommissioning of the twin reactors is imminent and that once the site is cleared, the dry casks will be all that remains. Contrary to the “risks” cited in the lawsuit, the NRC has said dry cask storage of spent fuel is good for at least 150 years.

State Attorney Generals in Connecticut and Vermont, who are seeking to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, joined New York in the lawsuit. This blog predicts a similar lawsuit to be brought over spent fuel stored at the Vermont reactor. In Vermont newly elected Gov Peter Shumlin has promoted the idea Vermont Yankee will be shut down in 2012 by raising issues about disposal of low-level waste from decommissioning the plant.

New York AG aligns with anti-nuclear groups

Anyone who thinks this lawsuit is just about spent fuel needs to look at the official press release from Schneiderman’s office which includes supporting statements from two leading anti-nuclear groups which are seeking to prevent the relicensing of the reactors.

New York Gov Andrew Cuomo was elected in 2010 on a platform that advocated immediately shutting down Indian Point. He benefitted from financial and political support by wealthy members of green groups in upscale Westchester county which is where the reactor is located on the banks of the Hudson River.

The Wall Street Journal reports Feb 16 Schneiderman cited the potential impact on property values in Westchester County as part of the rationale for the lawsuit. Cuomo and Schneiderman know the way to make check books fly open for campaign donations and election support from the region is to keep bashing Indian Point.

Schneiderman has brazenly included statements in his press release from two Westchester, NY, based anti-nuclear groups.

sleeping owl “Paul Gallay, Executive Director at Hudson Riverkeeper, said, “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for challenging a decision by the NRC that defies science, logic and common sense.”

“Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said, “The NRC’s failure to study the impacts of allowing our communities to become radioactive waste sites for generations to come is both outrageous and dangerous.”

No confidence in “waste confidence rule”

The lawsuit challenges both a NRC rule amending federal regulations and its “Waste Confidence Decision” as violating two federal laws, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The New York Attorney General charges that the NRC violated the two federal laws when it found – that no significant safety or environmental impacts will result from storing radioactive nuclear wastes onsite at the 104 operating reactors around the country for 60 or more years after the reactors are closed.

Schneiderman further charges that the NRC violated these laws when it found “reasonable assurance” that sufficient, licensed, off-site storage capacity will be available to dispose of nuclear power plant waste “when necessary.”

Thanks to the political horse trading between the Obama White House and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Yucca Mountain isn’t a viable project. A Department of Energy Blue Ribbon Commission is slowly working it way toward long-term policy recommendations on spent fuel management. It’s draft report is due in summer 2011.

NRC and Entergy dispute lawsuit

owl stay-awakeUsually, when lawsuits like this one are filed, the defendants clam up citing a policy of not commenting on pending litigation. This time they appear sufficiently sure of their ground to make statements about it. Make no mistake, this is not your average run-of-the mill response. These folks are seriously annoyed.

According to the WSJ, NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan said the new rule on storage “is in full accord with earlier court decisions . . .”

Dave McIntyre, another spokesman for the NRC, told the New York Times the plaintiffs have “mis-characterized” the waste confidence rule.

Entergy spokesperson Jim Steets told the WSJ “there isn’t any evidence that [on-site storage] can’t be done safely.”

The New York Times report for Feb 15 points out that if reprocessing of spent fuel in the U.S. had not “stalled",” then the spent fuel would not be stored at Indian Point.

The newspaper also notes that the official reason Connecticut joined the lawsuit is that spent fuel from the Connecticut Yankee reactor, decommissioned in 2007, has all of the fuel ever used in it sitting in dry casks at the reactor site.

The licenses for Indian Point Reactors 2 & 3 expire in 2013 and 2015 respectively. The applications for 20-year renewal were submitted in 2007. Together, the two reactors provide about 2,100 MW of electricity to the New York metro region. Gov Cumo has been silent on how the State of New York would find replacement power at competitive rates if the reactor licenses are not renewed.

Licensing hearing delayed again

spent fuelThe hearings on the license applications for Indian Point 2 & 3 have just been pushed back by a year due to contentions filed by the State of New York and the same environmental groups that celebrated Schneiderman’s lawsuit on spent fuel.

Riverkeeper and the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater contend that the NRC must conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on the storage of spent fuel at Indian Point. The groups argue the NRC has failed to consider the site-specific impacts of leaks of radioactive water from the wet storage facilities into the Hudson River.

The NRC, while agreeing earlier this month to give the groups more time, nearly a year, to prepare their contentions, also said that regulation of the wet and dry storage spent fuel facilities is already covered under existing rules and that a new EIS is not needed to continue.

Separately, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has denied a water quality permit for Indian Point citing the need for construction of huge and expensive cooling towers. The agency said that too many fish are being sucked into the plant’s once through cooling system. Entergy has disputed the action saying that new screens on the water intakes, which draw 2 billion gallons of water a day, will diminish fish kills.

The State of New York, and the two environmental groups, sought to deny the ability of Entergy to seek an economic assessment of the cost of best available technology under the Clean Water Act. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that states can consider costs for technology when issuing water quality permits.

Prior Coverage

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Jack Gamble said...

Perhaps he should sue his own Democratic Party leadership which unilaterally violated federal law and took Yucca Mountain off the table?

Finrod said...

So what's going to happen if the antinukes win this round? Will Entergy then be forbidden from practicing on-site storage? One is almost inclined to want to see the whole thing play out, given that spent fuel has to be put somewhere. There would be no way around it. Some branch of government would have to make a decision about the long-term storage of spent fuel... which is precisely the eventuality which anti-nuclear groups have been trying to avoid for decades. They're actually risking a lot by taking this track.

Harlz said...

So let’s see…

The used fuel can’t be stored in dry casks because the AG, Riverkeeper, et all say that’s not environmentally safe…
It can’t be stored in pools because the same people say it’s not safe against terrorist attacks…
It can’t be reprocessed because Jimmy Carter says that will lead to proliferation…
It can’t be fissioned in Gen IV reactors because the political leadership has never heard of them…
It can’t be shipped elsewhere because Greenpeace will block the railroad tracks…

Hell, just give it to me – I’ll put it underground, pipe a heat exchanger to it and heat my house for free for a century.