BUCHANAN, NY — August 9, 2020 — We can all breath a sigh of relief next spring when the last working reactor at Indian Point powers down. 20 million people in the 50-mile radius of the 40-year-old clunker can sleep sounder and future generations will thank us for no longer producing high level radioactive waste that will bedevil the country for years to come.
It is interesting to note that the closer we get to the closing date for Unit 3, the louder a minority of misguided souls shout for Governor Cuomo to keep it open. Evidently, they are not familiar with the laws governing nuclear power plants and the regulations imposed by the ruling body, in this case the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Governor has no legal authority to either close or open a nuclear reactor and while the NRC can order a reactor closed in case of danger, it cannot order the owner of a corporation to keep a reactor running against the interest of business. The NRC can and does handle the license of every nuclear power plant in the country and on paper it has a stringent set of regulations the industry is supposed to comply with.
In this case the NRC issued a letter on July 30, 2020, (EPID L-2019-LLL-0025} approving less security for Unit 2 since the fuel has been removed from the reactor. The letter makes it plain that the reactor can never be “refueled.” Staff security training will now focus on protection of the spent fuel. While Unit 3 does still have an operating license, it expires on April 30, 2021. At that Point Entergy will apply for the same less expensive change in security requirements granted to Unit 2.
There has been a lot of misinformation about who is responsible for closing Indian Point. This letter ends that speculations once and for all. “By a letter dated February 8, 2017, (ADAMS Accession No. ML17044A004) Entergy submitted a notification of permanent cessation of power operations for Indian Point Nuclear Generating Units 2 and 3. In this letter Entergy notified the NRC of its intent to permanently cease operations no later than April 30, 2020 and April 2021 for Indian Point 2 and 3 respectively.”
In our deregulated energy market companies that are not making a profit close down and that is exactly what Entergy has done with all six of its nuclear reactors in the Northeast. The company is retreating South where they have a monopoly and do not have to worry about competition.
What is next for Indian Point? Decommissioning! This means cleaning up the property in a prompt, safe manner and returning it to a greenfield that can go back on the regular business tax rolls. Rapid decommissioning could take from 12 to 15 years or even longer but must be done securely. The AIM pipeline that runs next to the spent fuel building presents only one part of this massive deconstruction process. It is important to note that the NRC does not have authority over the complete process. They will only supervise anything that that is radioactive. Holtec, the company that is in line to do the decommissioning will take the lead for the rest of the work. That means that some of the buildings and certainly the irradiated fuel rods will remain on the property as current law requires. Entergy estimates that when all of the fuel rods are in dry casks they will take up the area of approximately two football fields.
Holtec is working for a change in the law so that they can transport high level radioactive waste to New Mexico and the NRC has issued a ruling that might allow for this. There are already cases in the Washington D.C. courts challenging this new reading of the Atomic Energy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act that prohibits the establishment of an interim nuclear dump until a permanent location is available.
There are several things to keep in mind here. Transporting high-level radioactive waste over our roads through villages, towns and neighborhoods with all of the truck loads of radioactive waste that decommissioning will generate is asking for trouble. In theory, transporting high level radioactive waste to “temporary” storage means it would have to be moved again to permanent storage at a later date when the waste casks would be older and perhaps damaged. More likely, the “temporary” storage would become permanent and high-level radioactive waste would be left out in the open crumbling unsupervised in what amounts to an abandoned parking lot.
More importantly, people in New Mexico do not want this waste. That was very clear when citizens spoke at the last NRC meeting on this topic. The Governor and other decisions makers in New Mexico have promised to fight this, much like those in Nevada who stopped Yucca Mountain – the original choice for a permanent nuclear dump. Sending our high-level waste to contaminate another community that does not want it is undemocratic and some would say immoral.
What about Holtec, the company that is proposing this as a solution to moving the fuel rods? Their reputation is less than savory and other communities where they have done decommissioning work have not been happy with the way they have ignored community questions and concerns. Holtec is a big international company based in New Jersey where they were recently involved in a criminal court case for bribery. There have been problems on the international scale as well as they were barred from working with the World Bank for years.
Holtec is basically a contractor and many people who have had the experience of hiring a contractor know how difficult that can be. Any contractor, no matter how good, needs to be supervised and for a job this big it takes more than a local group from one community. Indian Point is a regional matter and to ensure that New York State taxpayers are not stuck with a big bill when the Decommissioning Trust Fund runs out, we need a New York State Decommissioning Oversight Board. People on this Board need to represent the wide range of people in our community. Certainly, the Village of Buchanan where the reactors are located must have a prominent seat at the table. Their community will suffer the most from the closure and deserves all the help that it can get. Some monies have already been set aside and there are other funds from NYS and from Entergy that will be devoted to Buchanan. Assemblywoman Galef just sponsored a bill that was passed this session of the legislature for this purpose.
Some people are concerned about what they see as loss of low carbon electricity that was generated at Indian Point around the clock. It is a mistake to call nuclear energy carbon free. Anything that is produced has a carbon footprint. So called base load electricity is not part of the new and emerging grid. In fact, it is exactly what got Indian Point in trouble. It produced electricity when there was no market for it. What our new grid needs is green low carbon generation that is quick on when needed and quick off when demand falls. Some of the bills recently passed in Albany aim to do just that. New York is poised to make great strides in decarbonizing our economy with the recently passed Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. People in different regions of our state are meeting now and figuring out how to meet the high goals set by this law. You will be hearing more about this as these groups reach out to others in their communities.
All fossil fuels and uranium must remain in the ground if we are to survive on this planet.
Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition
United for Clean Energy