Indian Point 3 can continue to run during renewal hearings

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) made it clear Dec. 10 that the Entergy (NYSE:ETR) Indian Point 3 nuclear unit in Buchanan, N.Y., can continue to operate while hearings drag on concerning whether it and Indian Point 2 should be granted a 20-year license extensions.

The Dec. 10 announcement by NRC is no surprise. NRC Chairman Stephen Burns had previously informed an oversight hearing Oct. 7 before the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works.                                                        

In an NRC blog posting, NRC public affairs noted that it’s been more than eight years since Entergy filed an application requesting that the NRC renew the operating licenses for Indian Point Units 2 and 3 — and, a final decision is still a ways off.

Under NRC regulations, if a company submits a sufficient application for a renewed license at least five years before the expiration of the current license, then the request is considered “timely” and the facility is allowed to continue operating under its current license until the NRC issues a decision on the license renewal request.

On Dec. 13, Indian Point 3 will enter the “timely renewal” period. Entergy submitted a license renewal application for both Indian Point Units in April 2007, meeting the timeliness provision. The Unit 3 license would have expired Dec. 12, 2015. This doesn’t mean the unit will be operating without a license. Rather Unit 3, like Unit 2 (which entered timely renewal in September 2013), will continue to operate under its existing license.

The Atomic Energy Act specifies that operating licenses can be issued for up to 40 years and allows license renewals in 20 year increments. Thus far, the NRC has issued renewed licenses to 81 reactors. Typically, it takes about 22 months for the staff to reach a decision on whether to renew a license – longer if there’s a hearing. In the case of Indian Point, though, the process has taken longer than projected, due in part to the large number of contentions the parties have raised in the hearing.

NRC staff has measures in place to provide assurance the facility will continue to operate safely during this time period. “We’ll continue to carry out our extensive regulatory and oversight activities,” according to the NRC blog post.

“While it might be some time before the Commission reaches a final decision on license renewal at Indian Point, our independent oversight of the facility will continue uninterrupted while in ‘timely renewal,’” NRC said in the blog post.

In a Sept. 28 letter to the NRC, Entergy confirmed that the Unit 3 license renewal commitments required to be in place prior to entry into the period of extended operation were complete.

In October, Entergy certified that the Indian Point 3 Updated Final Safety analysis report had been updated to incorporate aging management programs for the unit. In response, that same month, NRC completed an inspection to review the activities Entergy has taken to prepare for operating in timely renewal and found that the processes and commitments had been properly implemented.

New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance issued a statement Dec. 10 backing Indian Point. “Indian Point is unequivocally and categorically safe,” said Alliance Chairman Arthur “Jerry” Kremer.

“The plant has been thoroughly and intently scrutinized as part of the license renewal process and will continue to be. NRC staff has devoted over 37,000 hours to their ongoing review, have found the plant safe, and recommended license renewal,” Kremer said.

Indian Point Units 2 and 3, together generate roughly 2,000 MW of electricity for customers in New York City and Westchester County, N.Y. Both units are pressurized water reactors (PWRs) commissioned in the 1970s.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.