Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

One of the more contentious issues in the US today is relicensing the nuclear power plant fleet for additional 20-year periods. As you can imagine, this issue can be particularly divisive in the local communities in which these plants are located.

That is certainly the case with the Indian Point Energy Center – owned by Entergy – located roughly 35 miles north of New York City on the east bank of the Hudson River in the Town of Buchanan. Drive around the area and chances are you will see signs in people’s yards calling for the plant to be permanently shut down.

That’s easier said than done, however, given the volume of power the plant contributes to the region. With over 2,000 megawatts of electricity generated at Indian Point, the facility accounts for 20 percent to 40 percent of the power consumed in New York City and Westchester Country, which is located just north of the Bronx. For comparison, a typical coal plant generates around 500 MW of power.

Indian Point is currently operating under what is called a “period of extended operations” while relicensing proceedings unfold. “We are in the process of achieving license renewal,” Michael Twomey, Vice President for External Affairs at Entergy told Breaking Energy in an interview on the sidelines of the recent Future of Energy Summit organized by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The original license for unit 2 would have expired in September of 2013 and the unit 3 license would expire at the end of December 2015. But because Entergy is undergoing the license renewal process in front of the NRC and because the license renewal request was submitted more than 5 years before original license expiration, the facility is permitted to continue operations until the renewal process is complete, Twomey explained.

Read additional Breaking Energy coverage of the Indian Point relicensing debate here.

The renewal proceedings can be broken down into a three-part process. “We have to get the NRC to agree that our license should be extended. We are in that process with the NRC. We have gone through one round of hearings on contentions. All of those contentions have been resolved in our favor,” said Twomey. “We believe we meet all of the NRC requirements and I’m optimistic we will be able to work through that process and obtain license renewal on the other end,” he added.

The State of New York challenged the Indian Point severe accident mitigation alternatives (SAMA) analysis, contesting particular decontamination times and decontamination cost assumptions. On February 18, 2015, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board granted the State two petitions that allow further SAMA contention review.

The second issue involves Entergy getting a Coastal Zone Management Act determination in order to satisfy the NRC. “We are pursuing a couple different paths to achieve that,” said Twomey. “We’ve made an argument to the NRC that we don’t need a CZMA certification from New York because those facilities were previously reviewed by the State of New York when we purchased the plants back in 2000/2001. That issue is in front of the NRC and has not yet been resolved.”

Entergy also made an argument to the state court that Indian Point was grandfathered under existing state law and did not need a new CZMA certification. “The New York Appellate Court agreed with us,” he said. That decision is in front of the highest New York State court – the Court of Appeals – right now and if the highest court agrees with the lower court than Entergy will not need to get a new CZMA certification.

The third issue for license renewal is a water quality certificate from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation which is in the hearing phase now. “We believe we have demonstrated that we are entitled to a water quality certificate. We have to finish the administrative process to see what the NYSDEC says,” Twomey told Breaking Energy.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton Visits Power Plant

“We do have an alternative argument that we’ve raised with the NRC, which is under the NRC guidelines the State of New York had one year to make a determination on our request for a water quality certificate. We submitted that request I believe in 2009. It is 2015 and we do not yet have a final determination from the NYSDEC. So our argument is they waived their right to answer that question because they failed to act within a year.”

The NYSDEC staff did issue a recommended denial within a year, but it’s Entergy’s position that that was not a final agency decision and thus does not satisfy the requirement. So it is now up to the NRC to determine whether the NYSDEC did in fact waive their right by not issuing an agency decision within a year, or if a staff-level recommended decision is sufficient in this particular case.

At this point, if Entergy obtains favorable decisions from the NRC regarding the license renewal contentions, the New York State Court of Appeals regarding the CZMA determination and the NYSDEC regarding the water quality issue, then the company will have satisfied all the requirements needed to obtain the 20-year license renewal for Indian Point.

Twomey said Entergy does not expect that three-part process to be completed before at least 2018 and probably later than that. In the meantime the plant will continue to operate under the period of extended operations as per NRC regulation, while opponents continue to mount legal challenges against the license renewal.