“Westchester County executives have gone a step further in pushing for reform in nuclear power plant relicensing. That’s a wise and necessary move considering there is an aging facility in the densely populated backyard of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Buchanan.

As Westchester authorities argued in court recently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must retool its requirements for extending licenses, making it as rigorous to win an extension as it is to get one in the first place.

The licenses for the two reactors at Indian Point expire in 2013 and 2015, and plant owner Entergy wants to extend those by another 20 years.

The population density and the ability to successfully evacuate during an emergency are not examined in a 20-year license renewal. But they would be reviewed for new reactors in the same location.

Only issues such as managing aging pipes and other infrastructure or possible environmental impacts are considered in relicensing.

The Indian Point relicensing is more than a year under way, and a decision is expected in about two years.

It promises to be a contentious relicensing procedure. The company missed several deadlines to install a long-awaited emergency siren system. Indian Point has had a host of other problems, ranging from leaks of radioactive water that have had to be contained, to failing warning signals and a shoddy evacuation plan.

Several municipalities have passed resolutions demanding the plant be shut, and the region’s congressional delegation is pushing for a independent safety assessment of the plant before permits are renewed.

Westchester County officials and New Jersey environmentalists petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission three years ago to expand its criteria and were turned down. They took their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where they made the recent arguments in New York City.

Among their chief concerns: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rejection of their petition was not based on a true evaluation of safety concerns. They also said too much information about this issue was not made available to the public because it fell under the umbrella of “security” concerns.

According to the petitioners, there were plenty of reports showing how ineffective an evacuation around Indian Point would be in the event of a nuclear accident.

District Judge Robert Katzmann chastised the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s denial of the original petition, saying it was unjust to insulate the agency from judicial scrutiny.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission attorneys countered, saying such things as demographics are examined as part of a new license and other issues such as security and evacuation plans are evaluated in an ongoing manner.

They also said there were a variety of options for members of the public to challenge the operation of a nuclear plant as unsafe or to push for a change in regulations.

That isn’t good enough. As Westchester County and the environmental groups are arguing, regulations governing the relicensing of plants such as Indian Point must be comprehensive to begin with and not left up to the whim of a public challenge.”

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