In the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan today that shut down a nuclear power plant and may have triggered the release of radioactive waste, New York's attorney general has launched an effort to step up oversight of U.S. nuclear power plants.
"The earthquake in Japan (and the potential for a nuclear incident) reminds us that the NRC needs to expand relicensing criteria to factor in geological and seismic issues, terrorism and evacuation plans," New York Attorney General Anthony Cuomo said Monday.
Cuomo told the Blotter on ABCNews.com he plans to send letters to the nation's other state attorneys general, calling on them to join the fight to have the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reform its practices in relicensing the aging nuclear plants in the United States.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Web site lists eight of the nation's 104 nuclear plants are up for license renewal, a process that can cost each plant operator up to $15 million and the government up to $20 million per application. Letters initiating the almost two-year-long renewal process are expected from 24 other plants, according to the Web site.
Cuomo last week filed a brief with the New York's Second Circuit Court of Appeals, calling on the NRC to broaden criteria for relicensing to include the location of the plant and local population density, security and susceptibility to a terrorist attack, acceptable emergency warning and evacuation plans and geographic and seismic issues.
In the past, the NRC has been charged with resisting the notion of adopting these expanded criteria and has come under repeated criticism by environmental activists, the federal General Accounting Office and now New York's Attorney General.
"We are looking at this," Dave McIntyre, a spokesman for the NRC, said. "We hope to have a reply [to Cuomo] by the end of the month."
"The current relicensing regulations were developed in 1991 and 1995, when the NRC concluded that limiting the scope of its inquiry would make the relicensing process 'more stable and predictable' for the licensees. To date, the NRC has granted approximately 48 license renewals, and it has yet to deny one," Cuomo's office said in a statement last week.
Cuomo was joined by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in filing the friend of court brief in a case against the NRC currently pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that was originally brought by Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano and two New Jersey environmental groups, his office said .
New York's Indian Point nuclear power plant is currently undergoing a license renewal review. It has repeatedly been cited as the worst of the nation's 104 operating nuclear power plants. It has a well-documented history of leaking radioactive materials, failed alarm systems, fires and other safety violations. A NRC report in 2006 noted the plant's workers felt management had created a chilling effect on the reporting of violations. An NRC staff member called the plant one of "the most inappropriate sites in existence" for a power plant.
In January 2007, fish in the Hudson River near the plant were found to have high levels of a bone-seeking radioactive material, according to the Journal News.
Cuomo launched his campaign in the same fashion he launched an earlier successful campaign to reform the $17 billion student loan business, first by filing his own legal papers and then by seeking the support of other attorneys general.
Yolanda Pollard, the spokesperson for Entergy, the company that operates Indian Point, said Cuomo's interest in the plant's safety is welcomed. "Entergy agrees with the attorney general that safety is the top priority and emergency planning and security are serious issues that need to be addressed before a plant is granted license renewal," Pollard said in a written statement prepared for the Blotter on ABCNews.com. "We anticipated New York State's interest in being involved in the relicensing process and welcome the opportunity to share Indian Point's outstanding safety and performance record with the attorney general's office." Pollard acknowledged the history of problems at Indian Point. "Entergy has been dealing with issues in the last several years that were not Entergy's in the making, such as groundwater contamination and the public notification system. We have been aggressively addressing these issues to ensure there is no environmental or safety impact," she said.
This post has been updated.