Entergy Corp. can continue operating Unit 2 at its two-reactor Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, N.Y., until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) decides whether to renew the unit’s operating license—even after it expires on Sept. 28.

The federal regulator notified Entergy on Monday that it is “clear” the NRC will not issue a renewed 20-year operating license for Indian Point 2 before Sept. 28, allowing the reactor to enter a period of “timely renewal.” That means the reactor’s operators will implement a provision of the congressionally passed Administrative Procedure Act that  allows licensees who request a renewed license at least five years before expiration of the current license to operate under the existing license until the NRC completes its review and reaches a decision on a renewal request.

During the period of timey renewal, Entergy will have to continue to meet all of the regulations and license conditions that currently apply. “In addition, in a May 1 letter to the NRC, Entergy voluntarily committed to update its Final Safety Analysis Report to include the aging management programs, and to implement the commitments it has made, for a renewed license. Indian Point 2 will continue to operate under its current license with these modifications, to assure continued safe operation during the timely renewal period, until the NRC reaches a decision on whether to approve the license renewal application,” said NRC spokesperson Diane Screnci.

The 1962-built Indian Point Unit 1 was shut down in 1974 because the emergency core cooling system did not meet regulatory requirements. Entergy purchased the 1976-built Indian Point Unit 3 from the New York Power Authority in 2000 and the 1974-built Unit 2 from Con Ed in 2001 and submitted a license renewal application for both units in April 2007. The current operating license for Indian Point 2 expires at midnight September 28th, while Unit 3’s license expires two years later, in December 2015.

According to the NRC’s Screnci, the NRC typically takes about 18 to 24 months to review a reactor license renewal application, though she noted that if a hearing is required on the application, the process could take as long as 30 months to complete. “In the Indian Point case, the hearing has taken longer than projected, in part due to the large number of contentions the parties have raised in the proceeding.”

The plant’s continued operations have been strongly opposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, backed by environmental advocacy groups Clearwater and Riverkeeper, which claim the plant is susceptible to terrorist attacks and widespread contamination in the event of natural disaster. Several New York City leaders have meanwhile called for continued operations at Indian Point, saying the reactors are critical to the city’s economic viability. According to Entergy, Indian Point provides about 25% of the power used in New York City and Westchester County.

But another reason—one with a more widespread impact—for the delay is that the NRC deferred a decision on the license application pending further action by the commission on its Waste Confidence Decision, Screnci said. Updated in 2010, the NRC’s Waste Confidence Decision and Temporary Storage Rule makes a generic determination that spent nuclear fuel can be stored safely and without significant environmental impacts for a certain period of time after a nuclear plant permanently shuts down.

However, in June 2012 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that some aspects of the 2010 Waste Confidence rule update did not satisfy the NRC’s obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and vacated that rule. The NRC later deferred all final licensing decisions dependent upon waste confidence provisions —including those for Indian Point 2 and 3—while it takes steps to address the court’s decision. Late last year, the NRC directed staff to complete an environmental impact statement and a revised waste confidence decision and rule on the temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel by September 2014.

Entergy said in a statement on Monday that since it bought the plants, the company has invested more than $1 billion upgrading and enhancing the facility and preparing the plants for continued safe operation during the 20-year period of a renewed operating license. “As it always does, the NRC will provide continuous oversight through [the timely renewal] period, and has performed many thousands of hours of inspections and reviews beforehand specifically to ensure appropriate safety preparations were made for this period,” the company said.

Sources: POWER, NRC, Entergy

 

—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)