“Buchanan — U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has joined the chorus of voices urging an independent safety assessment of Indian Point.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is digging in its heels, telling members of Congress such an assessment would be an unnecessary duplication of the commission’s own safety reviews.

Clinton, one of the more high-profile Democratic faces in the race for president, introduced a Senate bill that would force the NRC to conduct an independent review of the plant. Clinton’s action came several days after Rep. John Hall, D-Dover Plains, introduced a similar bill in the House.

One notable difference between the Clinton and Hall bills is that Clinton’s would not tie the safety assessment to the plants’ license renewal; Hall’s would require any repairs or changes recommended by the assessment to be made before the plants can be relicensed.

Clinton spokeswoman Nina Blackwell said the senator thinks any licensing inadequacies can be better addressed through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. But she also said Clinton supports Hall’s goal of getting the safety assessment done before either plant is relicensed.

A House-Senate conference committee would have to work out that difference, should both bills pass, before a final version could be sent to the president for his signature.

Indian Point 2 is due for relicensing in 2013, and Indian Point 3’s license expires in 2015.

Late last week, NRC Chairman Dale E. Klein wrote to three Democratic members of Congress — Maurice Hinchey of Hurley, Eliot Engel of the Bronx and Nita Lowey of Westchester County — explaining that the NRC’s own reactor oversight process covers everything an independent assessment does.

The three, who are co-sponsors of Hall’s bill, wrote a joint letter to the NRC last October urging that an independent assessment be done at Indian Point. NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the timing of the response was coincidental. The response included a 17-page comparison of the reactor oversight process with an independent assessment done in 1996 at the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant, which was subsequently decommissioned.

And, Klein wrote, the oversight process is better because it’s continuous, not a “one-time ‘snapshot’ inspection.”

Hinchey couldn’t “help but laugh at” that logic and said the NRC is trying to cover up the inadequacy of its own review processes.

“Their continuous evaluation is entirely superficial,” he said. “An ISA is not superficial, but a complex, detailed analysis “¦ Their refusal (to support an ISA) shows extraordinary irresponsibility.””

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