BUCHANAN, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: The Entergy Indian Point Energy Center is seen from across the Hudson River September 24, 2002 In Buchanan, New York. Indian Point Nuclear Plant ran a series emergency exercises but critics said the drills prove little because they didn't test the controversial evacuation plan. (Photo by Monika Graff/Getty Images)
New York has denied a water quality permit the Indian Point nuclear facility near Manhattan needs for federal re-licensing in what environmental advocates call a historic victory in protecting the Hudson River.
The Department of Environmental Conservation says that data from the past 35 years show that the Entergy Corp. facility has been harming aquatic organisms as it draws up to 2.5 billion gallons of water a day from the Hudson River to cool its two nuclear units, then returns the warm flow to the river.
The DEC says Entergy's proposed 20-year continued operation "would continue to exacerbate" the harm done to fish including sturgeon, fish eggs and larvae, and the company has acknowledged radioactive material from the site continues to get into the groundwater.
Entergy could request a hearing, challenge the decision or seek an extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The power plants are about 35 miles north of Manhattan in the Westchester County town of Buchanan.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester said diverting the water then returning it untreated is the "most destructive force on the Hudson River it in its history." As an attorney, Brodsky has brought lawsuits against the state and federal government in the issue to force a decision on the water permit.
"This is finally the definitive ruling about the massive destruction Indian Point has caused for the river," he said Saturday. "This is the beginning of the end of this massive destruction of the river."
Entergy countered in a statement Saturday saying the action by the Department of Environmental Conservation isn't final.
"It is a draft departmental proposal, and an interim step in further proceedings which may include a hearing before a DEC administrative law judge. This action does not stay the NRC's ongoing proceedings regarding license renewal for Indian Point," the statement says.
Alex Matthiessen, president of the environmental watchdog Riverkeeper, said the state made a clear denial that says the plant can't — as required for its federal license — operate without damaging the waterway. He notes the state decision doesn't even say the facility's two plants would necessarily be allowed to operate beyond their expirations in 2013 and 2015 even if they install a cooling system to better treat the discharge back to the river.
"By denying outright issuance of the permit the state has said Indian Point has not, and in our view will not, operate in such a manner" that would be safe for the Hudson River, he said.
The certification application was filed last April in connection with Indian Point's application for re-licensing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The state's denial doesn't require the site to shut down.
The state agency said it's aware of "previous and ongoing leaks from spent fuel pools and other systems, structures, and components at the Indian Point" in Entergy's filings to the NRC for re-licensing, according to DEC's Division of Environmental Permits.
While Entergy maintains its radiological assessments of the leaks "have not yielded an indication of potential adverse environmental or health risk," the discharge could impair the water for best use.