NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a significant federal ruling Friday in an effort to improve a Buchanan, N.Y., power plant's accident preparedness.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued a decision agreeing with New York that the Indian Point power plant cannot be relicensed without completing a legally-required analyses of its severe accident mitigation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission must require Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, to either adopt cost-effective upgrades to improve responses and control the impact of a severe accident or provide a compelling reason why it will not do so.

"Severe accidents cannot be treated as impossibilities, and this critical ruling confirms that Indian Point must follow regulations to protect the public and control the effects of a potentially severe nuclear accident," Schneiderman said.

"We will not permit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Entergy to procrastinate or limit the relicensing review with the hope that full responsibility for protective measures can be avoided. My office will continue to take the action necessary to ensure Indian Point complies with all applicable laws and regulations, and that the surrounding communities are protected."

The relicensing requires nuclear power plants to identify environmental impacts that could be caused by a severe accident and to provide analyses of upgrades the facilities could make to protect the public if one would occur. These measures include plant upgrades such as improvements in equipment, procedures or training that could contain or limit the impacts that could result from a severe accident. In an environmental review, Entergy identified 20 such measures at Indian Point units two and three, including auxiliary power improvements and flood protection.

The NRC did not require Entergy to complete analyses of those measures or require that the measures be adopted, which Schneiderman alleges is a violation of the NRC's own regulations as well as a violation of the regulations of the Administration Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Schneiderman alleges that both Entergy and the NRC avoided an obligation to conduct a full review and sought to limit the severe accident analyses to a narrow set of components.

"The NRC is bound to take a hard look, consistent with [applicable law] at all [severe accident mitigation alternatives]...before deciding whether to grant a license renewal application," the board said.

Scheiderman said the ruling marks the first successful motion of its kind filed by an intervener in this type of proceeding and that it confirms his argument that the NRC's environmental review violated the law. Earlier this week, the NRC accepted the state's petition for fire safety enforcement at Indian Point.

In February, Schneiderman sued the NRC for authorizing the storage of radioactive waste at nuclear power facilities for at least 60 years after they close without first conducting the necessary public health, environmental and safety studies.

Schneiderman also recently joined a petition urging the NRC to re-examine operating limitations at the aging Indian Point reactors and lower the reactors' operating temperatures to reduce the risk of a meltdown in the event of an accident and to increase safety. He has also called upon the NRC to undertake a transparent, comprehensive and fair review of seismic risk before completing the relicensing proceeding for Indian Point.

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