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NRC Staff Discuss Timeline For Indian Point Shift To Decommissioning

Indian Point nuclear power plant, Buchanan, NY
WAMC, Allison Dunne
Indian Point nuclear power plant, Buchanan, NY

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week discussed its safety performance assessment for the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County. One reactor was shut down permanently in April while the remaining reactor is scheduled to permanently shut down next year. The plant will then be decommissioned, and NRC staff laid out a timeline for the process.

The NRC says Indian Point operated safely during 2019. All inspection findings and performance indicators for Indian Point Unit 3 were green, or of very low safety significance. As a result, the plant is receiving the normal level of oversight this year. Unit 2 was permanently shut down April 30th.  NRC Chief, Division of Reactor Projects for Region 1, Daniel Schroeder says that since March of this year, when the COVID outbreak took hold, inspection techniques have been modified.

“The resident inspectors have been risk-informing their samples, performing some inspection samples remotely,” says Schroeder. “Team inspections have been accomplished with reduced onsite presence or remotely, if practical.”

Indian Point owner Entergy submitted an application in November 2019 requesting transfer of its operating licenses for Units 1, 2 and 3 and spent fuel storage installation to Holtec International. In January of this year, the NRC accepted the application for review and published it in the federal register for public comment; the NRC received 380 comments. In February, the NRC received hearing requests from four parties, and these requests are pending before the Commission. Meantime, Holtec has responded to the NRC’s request for additional information. Approval of a license transfer would come through an order. Generally, the NRC aims to complete reviews of such applications within a year. NRC Project Manager in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Richard Guzman reviews the timeline.

“Our current projection, if approved, is to issue the order in November or early December of 2020. The staff safety evaluation would also be completed and would accompany that order,” Guzman says. “And also what we call a conforming licensing amendment would be approved by issuance of the order, and that conforming amendment would be issued upon completion of the sale closure, which is proposed by the applicants for the May 2021 time frame. The conforming amendment would simply update the facility operating license to reflect the new owner and operator.”

“I want to point out that the NRC staff’s decision on the license transfer request may be issued prior to the hearing request being resolved,” Guzman says.

Community members, environmental groups and lawmakers have expressed concern about Holtec’s financial viability as well as environmental matters. NRC staff, in their briefing Tuesday with reporters, discussed decommissioning funds. Again, Guzman:

“In February 2020, the Holtec Decommissioning International, HDI, in coordination with Entergy, submitted an exemption request to allow the use of decommissioning trust fund money for spent fuel management and site restoration activities, and this would be considered beyond the scope of decommissioning activities as specified by the regulation,” says Guzman. “This review is also on track for completion by the November/early December 2020 time frame.”

Rich Turtil is an NRC senior financial analyst in the Office of Nuclear Materials Safety and Safeguards. He reviews decommissioning trust fund updates submitted by nuclear plant owners. Turtil says the NRC has approved such exemption requests for other plants since 2013, in cases where companies have adequate or greater than what is required for radiological decommissioning and they’re seeking to use funding for spent fuel management and, in some cases, site restoration as well.

“That’s the case here at Indian Point. So they’re making a request for both use of the decommissioning trust funds for spent fuel management, site restoration, and also there’s a reporting requirement request in there they’re looking for an exemption from. So we are looking at that,” Turtil says. “I will say once that site is in decommissioning, we’re looking at their decommissioning trust fund balances and their costs of future required costs every year. So we’re taking a review of that. So we’ll certainly be looking at those additional fund requests or expectations with the exemption as we review those annual reports that come in.”

NRC staff held a virtual presentation with the public the day of the media briefing. Again, Unit 2 was shut down permantly April 30th. Unit 3 is scheduled to permanently shut down by April 30th next year. Unit 1 was shut down in 1974. The shutdown comes following a settlement announced in January 2017 among Entergy, New York state and Riverkeeper.

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