Five years ago, the owners of Indian Point, the nuclear power plant that many have decried as dangerous for its proximity to New York City and its susceptibility to damage in the event of an earthquake, applied for licenses that would keep the plant open for another two decades. Today, federal hearings on the validity of those licenses began.

The state of New York and two environmental groups are hoping to stall the plant by challenging the licenses’ renewal, arguing that corrosion in the facility’s pipes cannot be contained over the next 20 years, alongside a host of other issues. “I think this really spells the end of Indian Point,” said Robert F. Kennedy, chief prosecuting attorney for one of the groups. “The noose is closing.”

Whatever the outcome, it could be years before a final decision is reached, and the plant has license to continue operating until then. “We hold no illusions about closing Indian Point in 2013,” program director at the same group. “To us this is the beginning of the end of a long process.”