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September 2016: D.C. Circuit Victory for Indian Point Nuclear Plant

September 2016

The firm secured an important victory on an expedited basis for client Entergy Corp. in the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit involving a nuclear power plant that is integral to the electric grid for the New York metropolitan area. In June 2016, three environmental organizations filed an emergency petition for a writ of mandamus in the D.C. Circuit, seeking to compel the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”) to order a shutdown of the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant in Buchanan, New York, which a subsidiary of Entergy Corp. owns. The case stemmed from the result of a routine inspection in early March 2016 that Indian Point 2 performed. That inspection detected that a number of bolts securing metal plates in the reactor vessel had become degraded. This is a well-known phenomenon in the industry, but the number of degraded bolts was somewhat higher than had been observed at other plants. Under NRC’s supervision, Entergy (the owner and operator of Indian Point 2) replaced all of the degraded bolts, plus numerous non-degraded bolts for added safety margin. Entergy also committed to monitoring for possible signs of bolt failure during the upcoming operational cycle, such that Entergy would be able to shut the plant down safely to redress any issues. On May 24, 2016, an environmental group filed a petition with the NRC seeking an order preventing Indian Point 2 from restarting. NRC denied the request for immediate relief but did set the petition for full consideration (which remains ongoing).

Nearly a month later, three environmental groups filed an emergency petition (against NRC) for writ of mandamus in the D.C. Circuit seeking to compel NRC to order a shutdown of Indian Point 2, which had restarted that same day for its current operating cycle. A special three-judge panel was convened and issued an expedited briefing schedule requiring the NRC to file its brief in only five days’ time. A Quinn Emanuel team, on Entergy’s behalf, quickly filed a motion to intervene, which the Court granted the following day. The firm then filed an opposition brief and supporting fact declaration just four days later, explaining, as a factual matter, that no safety concern was presented by continued operation and, as a legal matter, that emergency relief was not warranted because NRC’s to-be-issued determination on the petition would be “committed to agency discretion by law” and therefore not judicially reviewable. Two days later, the environmental groups filed a reply brief and the D.C. Circuit denied the petition the same day. The quick victory allowed the power plant to continue operating, thus securing the reliability of the New York electric grid. Quinn Emanuel continues to represent Entergy in a variety of matters related to Indian Point in state and federal court.