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Nuclear Safety Official, Riverkeeper Talk Indian Point

BUCHANAN, N.Y. – They rarely see eye-to-eye, but Ossining’s Riverkeeper and Nuclear Regulatory Commission member William Magwood spoke face to face Tuesday on a boat trip on the Hudson River about issues surrounding the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan.

The boat trip followed Magwood's first tour of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants earlier that day. Magwood said he toured the facility, in part, as a response to the contentious relicensing process.

The NRC has already ruled the plants are safe to operate for 20 more years, but a series of issues filed by environmental groups must be resolved by the three-judge Atomic Safety and Licensing Board before a renewal can be issued. The contentions allege violations of regulatory or legal requirements and haven taken years in past license renewal hearings.

Magwood, one of five members that oversee the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Tuesday that he, too, had many questions about Indian Point.

“I had a good tour today, and I had a lot of questions for the staff. And I got a lot of interesting answers,” Magwood said, commending Indian Point officials for taking steps to meet new safety regulations. “You always see areas that you want to see some improvement in, and I do think they’re working hard on some of those areas. I think there is still some ways to go to make sure all of the staff has access to all the training that is necessary for every aspect of their jobs.”

Magwood said he has visited a dozen nuclear power plants since his appointment to the commission in April 2010. He refused to rank the standards of the 40-year-old Indian Point against other facilities and would not comment on the likelihood of the nuclear power plant’s relicensing.

“I often compare nuclear power plants to children and you never try to rank the children,” Magwood said. “I think Indian Point, like the other children I’ve visited, has some areas where they’re doing very well and has some areas where they’re working hard to catch up.”

Magwood was not available for comment after the boat ride but before the trip he said he was looking forward to speaking with members of Riverkeeper.

“Whenever you look at licensing of any nuclear facility, it’s important to have a full-body public debate,” Magwood said.

Riverkeeper’s Hudson River Program Director Philip Musegaas said it was the first time a commissioner from the NRC had agreed to join them on a boat ride.

“We have many concerns about Indian Point that we hope to make very clear,” Musegaas said before the trip. “The primary ones are evacuation planning, fire safety and regulations, security concerns and most importantly how the NRC has responded to the Fukushima disaster last year. We don’t think the NRC has done enough to address safety concerns after Fukushima.”

Musegaas said he was looking forward to the boat trip but did not expect Magwood to change his views.

“I think from our perspective any time you can have open, good communication, even with an adversary or someone you don’t agree with, I think it’s always valuable,” Musegaas said. “We have no expectations that we’re going to change anyone’s mind, but if we can give an official from the NRC a better sense of what we’re doing and why we’re so adamant about Indian Point closing, then that will be a success.”