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OpinionColumnistsE.J. McMahon

Foes, supporters square off at Indian Point hearings

NEWS12 WESTCHESTER: Hearings are being held to decide the fate of the Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan. (Oct. 15, 2012)

The battle over the fate of Indian Point moved to a new phase Monday afternoon with a three-judge federal panel opening hearings in Tarrytown on the fate of the controversial nuclear power plant.

"This is the day that those who oppose Indian Point have to prove their case," said Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, which advocates for electric projects and infrastructure.

Jockeying began Monday morning, with Indian Point opponent and environmental advocate Riverkeeper announcing a tentative settlement to one of the 10 objections, known as "contentions," that it filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Entergy Corp., which runs the nuclear power plant in the northern Westchester village of Buchanan, applied to the NRC more than five years ago for a 20-year license extension for the two reactors.

Indian Point opponent Marilyn Elie said the plant, two miles from her Cortlandt Manor home, is outdated.

"It's old, dangerous and unnecessary," Elie said as she demonstrated outside the hearings. "We don't need the energy. We have a surplus of energy. We don't need to have (nuclear) waste that will last for a million years."

Although the NRC has never refused a plant's renewal license, the challengers are optimistic.

"I think this really spells the end of Indian Point," said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper. "The noose is closing."

On Friday, Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report arguing that the power generated by the Indian Point plant, which produces a quarter of the electricity used by New York City and Westchester County, could be replaced seamlessly by alternative sources.

Entergy spokesman Jim Steets countered that it is "unrealistic" to believe that a planned power line running from Quebec, combined with assorted clean energy sources, would be adequate to replace the plant's output.

Plant proponents at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, the site of the hearings, pointed to the economic benefits spun off by Indian Point.

Kremer said the facility brings 1,200 jobs to the region, and James Slevin, vice president of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, said those jobs should not be uprooted.

"It's a key thing to keep the jobs in New York and keep the energy grid stable," he said.

Phillip Musegaas, Riverkeeper's Hudson River program director, said he understands concerns that Indian Point's closure would cost jobs, but he noted that the transition would be gradual because it can take as long as 15 years to decommission a nuclear plant.

"This idea that all of a sudden all of these people will be out of work is just inaccurate and misleading," he said.

Kremer, one of about 60 backers of a license extension in the hotel, also discounted fears of a meltdown like the one at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

"There's no connection to things like Fukushima because there are no tidal waves on the Hudson," he said, referring to the massive waves that triggered the disaster in Japan.

At issue is not merely whether the two Indian Point reactors, both nearing their 40-year age limit, continue operating. The hearings also could set the tone for hearings on reactors of roughly the same age whose operators also will seek extensions of their operating permits. Nine U.S. nuclear power plants have submitted applications for license extensions, according to the NRC website.

A Riverkeeper official said that if judges approve, the environmental group would withdraw its contention about the environmental impact of leaks from the spent fuel pool at Indian Point. In exchange, plant owner Entergy Nuclear would establish a third sampling station at Haverstraw Bay and post sampling data on a public website.

"The state is really holding Entergy's feet to the fire when it comes to compliance with the Clean Water Act," Musegaas said.

Remaining issues to be considered in the hearings include decontamination after an accident, the cost of human exposure to radiation and property values.

The two reactors at issue -- Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 (Indian Point 1 was mothballed in the 1970s) -- have 30-year licenses that expire in 2013 and 2015, respectively. But both sides agree that the first date, and possibly the second, will come and go before the new licenses are settled.

That's because the hearings are likely to stretch into next year, judges usually take months to rule, appeals are inevitable and the NRC declared in June that it will make no final decisions on licenses until after a two-year study of its nuclear waste.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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