02.23.21

SCHUMER, GILLIBRAND, BOWMAN, JONES, MALONEY, CALL ON NEW NRC CHAIRMAN TO IMMEDIATELY REVERSE DECISION AND SAFELY HOLD A PUBLIC HEARING; REPS SAY STATE AND LOCAL CONCERNS MUST BE HEARD BEFORE OWNERSHIP TRANSFER

NRC Approved Indian Point Ownership Transfer To Holtec In November 2020 Without Hearing Requests Submitted Local Stakeholders & Have Denied Subsequent Requests  

Reps Call On Newly Appointed NRC Chairman To Reverse Decision That Unwisely Denied Public Hearings 

Reps: Let The Hudson Valley Community Be Heard On IP Ownership Transfer

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Representatives Jamaal Bowman (NY-16),  Mondaire Jones (NY-17),  and Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18)today sent a letter to the newly appointed Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Christopher T. Hanson, calling for the Commission, under its new leadership, to reverse their recent January 15, 2021 decision denying the public hearing requests submitted by various local stakeholders, including the State of New York, Town of Cortlandt, Village of Buchanan, and Hendrick Hudson School District, regarding the ownership transfer of Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, NY, from Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. (Entergy) to Holtec Decommissioning International (Holtec). 

The lawmakers noted that Chairman Hanson himself disagreed with the previous NRC leadership’s decision denying these public hearing requests submitted by local stakeholders, pointing to Hanson's dissent in the NRC's final published version of the ruling denying the hearing requests. The delegation further explained that this divided (3-2) ruling was made just days after the NRC Chairwoman, Kristine Svinicki, had announced her departure from the Commission. Disturbingly, the NRC's decision denying the community's hearing requests also came almost two-months after the November 23, 2020, ruling where the NRC staff approved Indian Point's license transfer application to Holtec. 

“As we stated in our October 2020 letter, and reiterate today, the NRC should have addressed pending community hearing requests prior to ruling on Indian Point’s license transfer. These hearing requests raised important factual contention that remain unanswered yet central to the question of whether or not Holtec has the financial qualifications needed to provide reasonable assurance that sufficient funds will be available to decommission Indian Point, as required by NRC regulation,” wrote the lawmakers. “Specifically, elected officials, community members, industry experts, and various stakeholders, including New York’s attorney general, have raised serious concerns in their hearing requests regarding additional contamination, the adequacy of Holtec’s proposed 18% contingency allowance, and the feasibility of Holtec’s proposed decommissioning timeline. These questions of fact are central in addressing whether or not Holtec will have enough money to fully decommission Indian Point while also carrying out its proposed exempt activities using NDT funds.”

The lawmakers continued, “For these reasons, we remain united, as the federal lawmakers representing these communities, in our firm belief that these question of fact must be resolved in a public hearing.”

The lawmakers further explained that this November 2020 decision approving the license transfer of Indian Point was made despite the NRC's failure to address pending community hearing requests, submitted months earlier in early February 2020. Additionally, in November 2020, the NRC also granted an exemption request submitted by Holtec to use $632 million of the $2.1 billion New York ratepayer-funded Nuclear DecommissioningTrust Fund (NDT) for purposes outside the scope of the NRC's definition of decommissioning raising additional concerns for residents and stakeholders in the Lower Hudson Valley who were denied a hearing.

In the letter to Chairman Hanson, the lawmakers expressed concerns about the previous NRC leadership’s failure to fully and fairly consider the concerns raised by the state and others prior to transferring the plant’s licenses deprives the residents and taxpayers of New York from participating in the license transfer proceeding, which could have significant environmental, health, and economic implications for the state and its local communities in the Lower Hudson Valley for years to come.

The federal delegation representing the communities surrounding Indian Point has long called for additional transparency from the NRC in the form of public hearings for Lower Hudson Valley constituents. In January 2020, the lawmakers sent a letter to the NRC Chairwoman and Commissioners calling for the Commission to hold a public hearing to address state and community concerns before the NRC staff provisionally approved any license transfer of Indian Point from Entergy to Holtec. Later, in October of 2020, the group renewed its calls for public hearings before the NRC prior to the agency’s approval of any license transfer. 

Entergy and Holtec first submitted their license transfer application to the NRC on November 21, 2019. This would facilitate a change in ownership of the plant from Entergy to Holtec, once Indian Point is completely shut down this April of 2021. The closure of Indian Point raises the potential for significant impacts to the region, including to the environment, the local workforce, public services, state and municipal budgets, the school district, and safety and emergency planning. Once the plant is shut down, significant reductions in the plant’s workforce are expected over time, a large amount of spent nuclear fuel will be indefinitely stored on-site, and the local municipalities will experience a major loss in revenue. 

The full text of the letter may be found below:

Dear Chairman Hanson,

Congratulations on your recent appointment as the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); we look forward to working with you to better serve our constituents in the communities surrounding Indian Point Energy Center (Indian Point) in Buchanan, New York. We write today regarding the NRC’s recent denial of the hearing requests submitted by multiple parties and leaders, including the State of New York, Town of Cortlandt, Village of Buchanan, and Hendrick Hudson School District regarding the license transfer from Entergy to Holtec for the decommissioning of Indian Point, and urge the NRC to immediately reverse this decision under its new leadership. 

As the Senators and Members of Congress representing the communities surrounding Indian Point, we found the NRC’s January 15, 2021, divided decision denying the hearing requests submitted by those representing our constituents, including the State of New York, Town of Cortlandt, Village of Buchanan, and Hendrick Hudson School District deeply disturbing and a great disservice to our Lower Hudson Valley constituents. Prior to any ruling on these community hearing requests, which were originally submitted on February 12, 2020, the NRC approved Holtec’s exemption request to use $632 million of the $2.1 billion New York ratepayer-funded Nuclear Decommissioning Trust Fund (NDT) for spent fuel management activities that fall outside scope of the NRC’s definition of decommissioning. That same day, November 23, 2020, the NRC issued an order approving the license transfer of Indian Point from Entergy to Holtec. 

As we stated in our October 2020 letter, and reiterate today, the NRC should have addressed pending community hearing requests prior to ruling on Indian Point’s license transfer. These hearing requests raised important factual contentions that remain unanswered yet central to the question of whether or not Holtec has the financial qualifications needed to provide reasonable assurance that sufficient funds will be available to decommission Indian Point, as required by NRC regulation. Specifically, elected officials, community members, industry experts, and various stakeholders, including New York’s attorney general, have raised serious concerns in their hearing requests regarding additional contamination, the adequacy of Holtec’s proposed 18% contingency allowance, and the feasibility of Holtec’s proposed decommissioning timeline. These questions of fact are central in addressing whether or not Holtec will have enough money to fully decommission Indian Point while also carrying out its proposed exempt activities using NDT funds. For these reasons, we remain united, as the federal lawmakers representing these communities, in our firm belief that these questions of fact must be resolved in a public hearing.

Moreover, the NRC’s recent ruling denying these community hearing requests after granting Holtec’s exemption requests and approving Indian Point’s license transfer sets a dangerous precedent for the Commission. As you put it yourself, this ruling “takes an overly strict approach to contention admissibility and inappropriately delves into and decides the merits of aspects of the contentions” and “downplays the importance of the financial qualifications review at the time of license transfer.” We agree, and with many critical questions of fact still unanswered regarding Holtec’s plans to decommission Indian Point, the communities that we represent in the Lower Hudson Valley continue to worry that Holtec has not provided the proper financial assurances needed to safely decommission the plant. 

As the new Chairman of the NRC, we ask that you reverse the NRC’s ruling denying the public hearing requests submitted by local stakeholders, including the State of New York, Town of Cortlandt, Village of Buchanan, and Hendrick Hudson School District. Importantly, this decision was made after Chairman Svinicki had already announced her intent to leave the NRC during the final days of the Trump administration. Under its new leadership, the NRC cannot continue prioritizing industry timelines over its core values of protecting public health, safety, and the environment. We thank you for considering this important request.

Sincerely, 

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