NEW YORK Entergy Corp was denied a request for a water-quality certification for its Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York, setting back efforts for a 20-year renewal of its license to operate the controversial plant.
The company said on Sunday it plans to appeal the decision by New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.
The state on Friday concluded that the plant's cooling systems, whether operated as they have been for decades or modified under a proposal by Entergy, "do not and will not comply with existing New York State water quality standards."
Entergy said the ruling could force it to spend $1.1 billion over 19 years to build new cooling towers. The ruling could alternatively result in a closure of Indian Point's two operating reactors, which supply a large amount of electricity used in New York City and adjacent Westchester County.
A water quality certificate would run concurrently with the proposed 20-year license extension that Entergy is seeking from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"We're disappointed in the notice of denial, but we expect to have an opportunity to convince the DEC it made a mistake," Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said on Sunday. He said Entergy has 30 days to request a public hearing.
Indian Point is located about 40 miles north of Manhattan. Critics of the plant have long complained that a disaster, whether resulting from plant operations or an act of terrorism, could threaten the safety of millions of people.
The president of environmental group Riverkeeper, Alex Matthiessen, in a statement called the ruling a turning point in efforts to stop Indian Point's "environmental assault on the Hudson River and force the plant's early retirement due to the risks its continued operation poses to public health and safety."
According to the ruling, Indian Point's two units violate state law and the federal Clean Water Act because they kill close to 1 billion aquatic organisms a year, including the endangered shortnose sturgeon, while consuming 2.5 billion gallons of water a day.
The original federal licenses for Indian Point Units 2 and 3, which were licensed in 1973 and 1976, respectively, expire in September 2013 and December 2015, respectively, the ruling said. Unit 1 was shut down in 1974.
Steets said a cooling tower upgrade would take until 2029 to complete and require that both reactors be shut down for 42 weeks. He said Entergy's proposed underwater "wedgewire" system would take three years to install and cost just $100 million.
"It would reduce the impact of the plant's operations on drawing in fish and larvae from the Hudson River much, much sooner," he said. "It would be much more effective than cooling towers over the 20-year license renewal period."
The NRC was not immediately available for comment.
Last month, the New York Public Service Commission rejected Entergy's plan to spin off three nuclear power plants in the state to a new company, Enexus Energy Corp, saying it was not in the public interest.
Entergy shares closed Thursday at $82.32 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock market was closed on Friday for the Good Friday holiday.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Leslie Adler)