In an unusual and unanimous decision, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ruled that an analysis by its own staff of the costs of a severe accident at Indian Point violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
The decision will require another analysis that uses more accurate data, which in turn could lead to costly upgrades at the facility.
“While typically we decline to second-guess the [Atomic Safety and Licensing Board] on its fact-specific conclusions, here the decision contains obvious material factual errors and could be misleading, warranting clarification,” NRC officials said.
The decision was a victory for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has argued that NRC staff systematically undercounted the cost and impact of a severe nuclear reactor accident.
Schneiderman’s office argued the environmental report filed by Entergy, which operates Indian Point, failed to accurately model the cleanup and decontamination of a major accident, particularly as it would affect New York City.
“The Commissioners’ decision requires the NRC staff to do what should have been done years ago: Provide an accurate account of cost-effective upgrades at this aging nuclear plant that can prevent or minimize severe accidents,” he said. “While some might prefer to treat severe accidents as impossibilities, the millions of people who live and work near Indian Point deserve nothing less than a full and fair assessment of the plant upgrades needed to protect them against such accidents.”
The NRC decision will weigh the costs a severe accident compared to plant upgrades that might lessen those costs, Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said. “It’s important to note that none of the mitigation alternatives evaluated in the … analysis are measures the agency has deemed necessary for safety,” Nappi said. “They are supplemental to mitigation capabilities NRC safety regulations already require.”
The federal licenses for both of the reactors at Indian Point have expired and Entergy has applied for a 20-year renewal. The plant has had a series of mishaps in the last year that are now under investigation by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been trying to close the plant for years.
On Wednesday, Cuomo said the NRC’s decision reaffirmed his administration’s longstanding concerns about Indian Point’s safety and was further evidence the plant should close down.
“Clearly, this facility poses too great a risk to the millions of people who live and work nearby,” he said. “We will work closely with NRC staff and continue to monitor Indian Point’s daily operations to ensure that a proper analysis is done regarding any unacceptable dangers to ensure that the public is protected at all times.”