The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing an application from Entergy Nuclear Operations to transfer Indian Point licenses to another company for decommissioning. The application has kicked off a public comment period and the opportunity to request a hearing.
In April, Holtec and Entergy agreed that Entergy would transfer its three Buchanan-based Indian Point reactors to a Holtec International subsidiary for decommissioning. The expected application is now with the NRC for review, with the NRC likely to render a decision within a year. A public comment period opened Thursday. Democratic New York U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, along with Congresswoman Nita Lowey, wrote a letter to the NRC chairman requesting a 30-day extension of the public comment period that ends February 24. Neil Sheehan is NRC spokesman.
“It just came in either yesterday or the day before, so we’ll be taking a close look at that,” says Sheehan.
In addition, the NRC has published in the Federal Register a notice of opportunity to request an adjudicatory hearing regarding the application. Hearing requests may be filed by February 12. Any party seeking a hearing would need to demonstrate standing and submit at least one admissible contention. The topic of a hearing is the subject of a legal challenge in the case of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts, which shut down last year. The NRC approved an application for Pilgrim’s license transfer to Holtec in the fall. Last Friday, New York state Attorney General Letitia James led a coalition of 12 states in supporting Massachusetts’s challenge to the NRC’s approval for the transfer of Pilgrim’s license to Holtec, without affording the Commonwealth a hearing to address its concerns about Holtec’s ability to successfully oversee the facility’s decommissioning. The NRC’s Sheehan:
“And the Commission is still considering those requests for a hearing. In the meantime, the Commission did not object to the NRC staff issuing approval of the license transfer, And so that has now taken place,” Sheehan says. “But the Commission… we’ve made clear to the parties if we, if, for some reason, the hearing takes place and concerns are raised with respect to the license transfer, we could still take action retroactively.”
When it comes to Indian Point, state Attorney General James released a statement, saying, “It is essential that the decommissioning of Indian Point be rapid, complete, and safe. In that light, I have multiple, grave concerns about the application now before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would hand off the responsibility for Indian Point’s decommissioning to a company with absolutely no experience in such an enormous, complex, and consequential undertaking. I am committed to ensuring – through legal action if necessary – that the State of New York is granted full participation in this application proceeding and all other decision-making related to Indian Point’s decommissioning. The health, safety, and well-being of New Yorkers deserve nothing less.”
Entergy and Holtec said in a statement, “Entergy and Holtec will continue to work with stakeholders, including federal and state regulators, to share information which demonstrates the enormous benefits of Holtec’s plan for the decommissioning of Indian Point decades sooner than would otherwise be possible. The Holtec team has substantial experience in decommissioning power plants and managing used nuclear fuel at facilities around the world.”
As expressed during the annual June NRC meeting on Indian Point, community members, environmental groups and lawmakers are concerned about Holtec’s financial viability and environmental matters. Democratic New York state Senator Pete Harckham sits on the Indian Point Closure Task Force. And his 40th District includes Indian Point. Harckham attended a recent public meeting with Holtec in Westchester County and says he walked away with a lot of concerns.
“The fact that they want to do it for $200 million more than is in the trust fund; they’re already planning to use up the entire trust fund, plus another $200 million. Who knows where that’s coming from. So that’s certainly something to give us pause,” Harckham says. “And they didn’t really answer any questions or environmental questions or fiscal questions or labor questions. A lot of questions still need to be answered.”
The NRC’s Sheehan says the Commission will examine Holtec’s approach to safety and financial health.
“We’re going to look very closely at any plans for decommissioning and how they align with the amount of money available in the decommissioning trust fund,” says Sheehan. “And we look at those not only in the context of a license transfer request, but also on an annual basis. We’re going to be looking to see whether or not the amount of money in that fund, again, tracks with what they intend do as far as dismantling the plant.”
As for spent fuel:
“There is still no place for any spent fuel to move from the site, at this point. We do have applications before us for interim repositories in New Mexico and Texas. They’re still under review. There’s no movement, at the moment, on Yucca Mountain," Sheehan says. “So at this juncture, the fuel, any spent fuel that’s at the site will remain there.”
Indian Point Unit 2 is scheduled to permanently shut down in April and Unit 3, by April 2021. Indian Point Unit 1 was shut down in 1974. If the NRC approves Holtec’s application, the transfer would take place after the shutdown of Unit 3.