BUCHANAN, N.Y. -- The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) toured Indian Point nuclear power plants Monday. The two did not make specific announcements, but offered two differing points of view often reiterated in the debate on the plants' continued operation.
The tour was Chairperson Allison Macfarlane's first visit to the plant. Although the two stood side by side at a pedestal in one of the plant's incident rooms, the two represented differing views on the plants' role in the lower Hudson Valley.
"Simply put, it's just not safe for a nuclear facility to operate in an area as densely populated as this," said Lowey. The Congress member also said that evacuation plans for a 50-mile radius around the plant are unrealistic. "We know what it's like at rush hour around here," she said.
Macfarlane, on the other hand, said "the plant has been operating safely." Macfarlane couldn't comment on many Indian Point specific issues with the media, since she is involved in regulatory rulings. For example, she is an adjudicator in hearings on fire safety exemptions the agency granted Indian Point.
Indian Point Unit 2 and Unit 3 are seeking a 20-year license extension. The licenses expire in 2013 and 2015 respectively, but the plants will be allowed to operate throughout the license renewal proceedings. Although Lowey expressed concerns about evacuation planning, it is outside the scope of relicensing hearings, and will not affect whether or not the plant is relicensed.
Macfarlane also refused to comment on when Indian Point's license renewal proceedings might see a conclusion. The day before she was sworn in as the agency's leader, in July, a DC Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an NRC safety review of nuclear waste storage. The court ordered an environmental impact review of long-term nuclear waste storage on reactor sites, a practice the agency allowed for up to 60 years past a reactor's closure in its previous policy.
Following the court ruling, the agency announced it would not issue new licenses or renewals until the policy was resolved. The agency gave a deadline of two years to complete the new policy, although many involved in Indian Point's licensing hearings believe the policy could take longer to construct.
Called an "expert on nuclear waste issues" by the NRC, Macfarlane is a doctorate geologist and has written a book on the subject. She also participated in a "Blue Ribbon Commission," discussing Yucca Mountain, Nev., where a proposed high-level nuclear waste repository was proposed and eventually abandoned.
Macfarlane has been chairperson of the agency less than nine months. She was sworn in after her predecessor, Chairperson Gregory Jaczko, resigned following months of industry criticism.