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Post date: July 12 2007

Attorney General Cuomo Calls For Expanded Criteria In The Relicensing Of Nuclear Power Plants

NEW YORK, NY (July 12, 2007) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the filing of a brief calling for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to broaden the criteria considered in the relicensing of nuclear power plants -- an action that could have implications for the Indian Point power plant. The brief was filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

"This brief raises serious questions about the NRC relicensing process - a process that ignores important factors about nuclear power plant safety and is stacked in favor of plant operators," said Attorney General Cuomo. "Our brief reinforces a position I have long held - New York needs to work toward an energy future without Indian Point."

Under its current relicensing regulations, the NRC focuses only on the age-related structural degradation of fixed, non-moving components, like the reactor core, containment system, pipes, and electrical cables.

NRC relicensing regulations do not call for review of factors such as:

  • Location of the plant and local population density
  • Security and susceptibility to a terrorist attack
  • Acceptable emergency warning and evacuation plans
  • Geographic and seismic issues
  • Demonstrated compliance with ongoing regulatory requirements

The current relicensing regulations were developed in 1991 and 1995, when the NRC concluded that limiting the scope of its inquiry would make the relicensing process "more stable and predictable" for the licensees. To date, the NRC has granted approximately 48 license renewals, and it has yet to deny one.

"From its proximity to the most densely populated area in the United States, to its vulnerability to terrorist attacks, to the lack of an acceptable evacuation plan, Indian Point presents a vital threat to the safety of millions of New Yorkers and the residents of neighboring states," said Attorney General Cuomo.

Approximately 20 million people - about six percent of the nation's population - live within fifty miles of Indian Point. The 9/11 Commission reported that al-Qaeda terrorists had specifically contemplated attacking nuclear power plants with aircraft, and two of the planes hijacked on September 11, 2001 flew near or over Indian Point.2006 marked the fourth straight year that Westchester, Rockland, and Orange Counties refused to certify county-based evacuation plans prepared by Entergy, the plant's owner.

Indian Point's original forty-year operating licenses for Reactor Unit 2 and Reactor Unit 3 end in 2013 and 2015, respectively. In May 2007, Entergy submitted license renewal applications to the NRC for these reactors. Entergy seeks to extend their operating licenses for another twenty years, or until 2033 and 2035.

Attorney General Cuomo was joined by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in filing the amicus brief. The case in which Attorneys General Cuomo and Blumenthal filed the brief is Andrew Spano et al. v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2d Cir. 07-0324-ag). It is currently pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The brief was filed by the Attorney General as amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," in support of a challenge to the NRC originally brought by Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano and two New Jersey environmental groups. The Westchester and New Jersey petitioners seek to compel the NRC to evaluate all aspects that affect a nuclear power plant's safety before renewing a license. In December 2006, the NRC refused the petitioners' earlier request that the NRC consider additional criteria in the relicensing procedure.

Westchester Country Executive Andrew Spano said, "I am very grateful to Attorney General Cuomo who has put the tremendous efforts of his office to help us to protect the public. Both of us feel that the process must be changed so that there is a level playing field between the public and the nuclear industry. So far, the NRC has never denied a renewal. They must reset their priorities when public safety is at stake."

The brief was prepared by Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, Special Deputy Attorney General Katherine Kennedy, Deputy Solicitor General Benjamin Gutman, and Assistant Attorneys General Morgan Costello and John Sipos, all of the New York State Attorney General's Office.