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Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Nuclear Plant Operator Near NYC Failed to Consider Impact of Severe Accidents on Low-Income, Minority Populations

Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Nuclear Plant Operator Near NYC Failed to Consider Impact of Severe Accidents on Low-Income, Minority Populations

Public Justice’s environmental team announced today that the adjudication division of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has affirmed that all evidence submitted by the environmental group Hudson River Sloop Clearwater to show that the NRC failed to properly consider the disproportionate impact of severe accidents on vulnerable populations within fifty miles of Indian Point Nuclear Plan in Buchanan, N.Y., will be considered.The Atomic Energy and Licensing Board, a divsion of the NRC, confirmed that, in addition to impacts on prisoners the NRC should have considered impacts on other “environmental justice” populations, including the elderly, disabled, school children, people in homeless shelters and those without access to their own car. Work done by New York State shows that approximately eleven million people live within the relevant area, of which six million are in “environmental justice” areas.

Click here to read the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s full opinion.

Indian Point, pictured, is a three-unit nuclear power plant located less than forty miles north of New York City. It is owned and operated by Entergy Nuclear Operations. The plant’s Unit 1 reactor has been permanently shut down; Units 2 and 3, which were commissioned in the 1970s, have licenses set to expire in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

But Indian Point’s licenses could be extended for the next two decades. Although relicensing of nuclear plants has become routine, the license renewal for Indian Point is controversial primarily because over seventeen million people live within fifty miles of the plant.
Challenging the potential twenty-year extensions, Public Justice is representing Clearwater, an environmental group in New York’s Hudson Valley, in its case against Entergy. Clearwater contends that the decision by the NRC to relicense Indian Point was not made with the proper due diligence considering the significant risks.
The NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has now validated Clearwater’s concerns, affirming that Clearwater and Public Justice are raising a broad point about “environmental justice.”

According to Public Justice Power-Cotchett Attorney Richard Webster, the long-term storage of spent fuel at Indian Point presents both environmental and safety risks to the surrounding communities. Among the potentially affected populations should a disaster happen are inmates at nearby Sing Sing prison, nursing home residents, minority populations, public transport-dependent residents, habitants of homeless shelters, immobile hospital patients and pre-school children.
The plaintiffs are arguing that the NRC did not review proper evacuation plans for these populations. The legal term “environmental justice” is the plaintiffs’ main issue: before renewing a nuclear power plant, the NRC must assess whether this action would cause any disproportionate impacts to minority and low-income populations. In the case of Indian Point, the NRC found no such impact.

In their position statement, Clearwater and Public Justice write that until the NRC goes through the appropriate process of fully assessing how a disaster could affect surrounding communities — and how to mitigate those affects — the relicensing of Indian Point should not proceed.

In a second environmental case currently proceeding through the courts, Public Justice is challenging a corporation’s dumping of mine waste near Crafts Run, a tributary of the Monongahela River in West Virginia. Coresco LLC runs mining disposal sites in the area, which is part of Monongalia County. According to a report commissioned last fall by Public Justice, coal combustion waste (CCW) and acid mine drainage have seriously harmed aquatic life in Crafts Run, which spans multiple miles and discharges into the Monongahela, a major river in the region.

Coresco’s existing disposal sites (viewable on this map) were permitted by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) to accept CCW (commonly called “coal ash”), but Coresco is now asking the WVDEP to allow it to expand its disposal operations within the Crafts Run watershed.
Local environmental groups, the Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Public Justice are opposing the expansion. Click here to read Public Justice’s recently filed complaint.

Cindy Rank of West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, one of the environmental groups, said that “expanding Coresco’s current coal ash disposal practices will not only further pollute Crafts Run but will also add additional stress to the Monongahela River, a valuable resource for tens of thousands of people all the way to Pittsburgh.”
The case against Coresco is trying to reinforce local efforts to prevent the coal ash dumps from doubling in size to accommodate ash from nearby and recently completed Longview Power Plant. The lawsuit is also designed to show gaps in state regulation and, in turn, strengthen the case for national regulations of coal ash dumping.