TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), a judiciary arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), began evidentiary hearings in the contested license renewal of Indian Point nuclear power plants, located in Buchanan, N.Y.
Three administrative law judges asked representatives from Entergy Nuclear and Riverkeeper pointed questions about highly technical matters, as the ASLB heard the first of 10 contentions during 12 days of evidentiary hearings scheduled in 2012.
Contentions are brought by outside agencies and argue that license renewal would break another law or not fulfill a regulatory requirement.
Signs were not allowed inside the meeting, but protesters stood outside the hearing as it started.
"It's old, dangerous and unnecessary," said Marilyn Elie of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC). She and about a dozen more protestors stood outside the Tarrytown DoubleTree hotel, waiting for the hearing to begin.
Asked whether she believed the plant would have its license renewed regardless of the ASLB's ruling, she said, "Yes, I do. That would be consistent with their past practices," said Elie.
A spokesperson for the NRC described the ASLB as functioning similar to a "lower court." Decisions made by the ASLB are non-binding and only arbitrate the contentions brought before them.
The NRC is the final authority to grant or deny the 20-year license extension sought by Entergy Nuclear, owner and operator of Indian Point Unit 2 and 3. Final licensing decisions made by the NRC can be appealed in federal court.
The three judges have already reviewed thousands of pages of background documents and testimony, and 1,400 exhibits in the relicensing, brought by the State of New York, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and Riverkeeper.
"One thing to note at the outset, it for better or worse, we won't know how these judges decide for some time," said Riverkeeper's Hudson River Program Director Philip Musegaas. He said the ASLB hearing was "the beginning of the end of a long process, but we are in the end phase here."
During an energetic exchange, Riverkeeper expert witness Joram Hopenfeld, a Ph.D. mechanical engineer, was asked by judges what he viewed as the deficiencies of a particular aging management tool used by many of the nuclear plants in North America.
The tool, known as CHECWORKS, is a seven-factor algorithmic equation to estimate corrosion in miles of pipes in nuclear facilities.
Pipes in nuclear facilities carry large volumes of water at high-pressures and are subject to a phenomenon known as "flow-accelerated corrosion." The pipes often have multiple elbow joints where corrosion tends to concentrate. Detecting such corrosion is important to preventing leaks or pipe failure, aging management of this nature of one of the key components of license renewal.
"The whole theory is for straight pipes," said Hopenfeld.
"In your expert opinion, you don't believe the CHECWORKS program can take into account the geometry," clarified Judge Lawrence McDade
"Absolutely not," said Hopenfeld. He said the data had been "misrepresented" and said the tool could produce wild inaccuracies. Unable to separate his critique of Indian Point's use of the equation from his critique of the equation itself, Hopenfeld gave this conclusion.
"The point I'm trying to say, it's not them. The problem is that this was developed and they stopped it. It stopped 20 years ago. My main point here is that Entergy shares some of my thoughts about CHECWORKS because otherwise they would be using it throughout the plant, but they say they only use it 50 percent of the time," said Hopenfeld.
Entergy Spokesperson Jim Steets maintained that the company has "the scientific and technical basis for our belief that we can operate the plants safely for a renewed 20 year license period."
Tuesday's testimony will focus on a contention brought by New York State, which challenges the NRC's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, regarding its analysis of decontamination and clean-up costs of a severe accident in the New York metropolitan area.