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Riverkeeper Takes Critical Step in Fight to Shut Down Indian Point

Dear Indian Point Campaign supporter:

Photo Courtesy Giles Ashford

I am writing to update you about another step Riverkeeper has taken in our fight to shut down the environmentally destructive, unsafe Indian Point nuclear power plant.

As you know, Riverkeeper is currently fighting to prevent a license extension that would allow Indian Point to operate for an additional 20 years. To further support this work, last week, Riverkeeper submitted comments on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) proposal to “update” their environmental review procedures used during nuclear power plant license renewal proceedings, like that of Indian Point.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, or “NEPA,” the NRC is required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement during such proceedings, in which they assess all of the environmental impacts that would result if a plant were to be relicensed. This important tool is intended to help government regulators decide whether the environmental impacts caused by operating Indian Point for twenty more years would be so severe that relicensing could not be justified. As a result, it is critically important that this assessment be comprehensive and independent and include all impacts and the measures available to mitigate them. Since 1996, the NRC has largely relied upon a report which disposes of most relevant environmental concerns on a generic basis for all nuclear power plants. The NRC has used this Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or “GEIS,” to avoid having to analyze certain environmental impacts on a plant by plant basis during particular license renewal proceedings.

After years of unjustified delay, in Fall 2009, the NRC finally proposed changes to the report and asked for public comment. However, the so-called “updates” to the report are little more than window dressing, and do nothing to correct the fundamental flaws in the original report. Riverkeeper’s comments highlighted these failings and demanded that the NRC make significant revisions before finalizing the report. Riverkeeper’s critique included:

  • Failure to fully address the environmental impacts of accidental radioactive water leaks from nuclear power plants. Despite the fact that 29 different nuclear plants have reported radioactive water leaks, the proposed GEIS update would still not require a site-specific assessment of the impacts of such leaks on the ecosystems surrounding nuclear power plants. Such an evaluation is especially necessary for Indian Point, given the plant’s impacts to the Hudson River and proximity to Haverstraw Bay, which is a critical habitat for many fish species.
  • Continued refusal to consider the environmental impacts associated with the inability to carry out a successful emergency evacuation. The emergency plan for Indian Point is completely unworkable given the extremely high population density and traffic congestion of the region; and yet, the “updated” GEIS continues to ignore this issue, despite the obvious environmental consequences that would ensue in an emergency.
  • Failure to assess the environmental impacts of spent fuel pool accidents or terrorist attacks. Even though recent research shows that the impacts of such scenarios would be catastrophic and far-ranging, the revised GEIS would continue to minimize such concerns, and not require any site-specific assessment during license renewal.
  • Inadequate consideration of the impacts of nuclear waste storage. With no long-term disposal solution forthcoming any time soon, it is foreseeable that nuclear waste will be stored temporarily at nuclear plant sites for decades to come. And yet, the revised GEIS would continue to make one generic determination that the environmental impacts of such storage will always be small. Given the circumstances, and in light of leaking spent fuel pools at various reactor sites, such as Indian Point, a site-specific review at the time of license renewal is essential.

At Indian Point, an accurate assessment of all of the environmental impacts of continued operation would quickly demonstrate that license renewal is not appropriate. Riverkeeper’s comments, therefore, urged the NRC to revise the proposed GEIS update to better reflect site-specific realities facing nuclear power plants today.

Riverkeeper’s full comments.

We appreciate your continued support of Riverkeeper’s Indian Point campaign. I look forward to updating you on future developments, as we continue to mount our landmark legal challenge to the relicensing of Indian Point.

Deborah Brancato

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