Next Steps Going Forward
The Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition has worked for the closing of the reactors at Indian Point since 9-11. A closing agreement, initiated by Entergy, was signed by New York State and Riverkeeper on January 9, 2017. Barring unforeseen circumstances, that adversely affect power supply reliability, the reactors are slated to close in 2020 and 2021. It is time for us to acknowledge that fact and move forward with a united message on decommissioning the reactors safely, isolating high level radioactive waste from people and the environment, figuring out how to monitor it for untold years and eventually restoring as much of the property to a greenfield as is possible.
We continue the process of educating ourselves on what we are facing with the major and complex issues involved in a safe decommissioning process. We have a responsibility to share what we know and what we will learn with our community and with decision makers about what is on the horizon. Below is a list of major points, the complete document follows.
- A Citizens Oversight Board for the decommissioning process is essential in order to ensure that the interest of the public in isolating high level radioactive waste from the community is given the highest priority. A Citizens Oversight Board which includes members from IPSEC, Clearwater, SAPE and other stakeholders familiar with Indian Point must be formed and funded by the NYS legislature and empowered to represent the public interest.
- The decommissioning process must start as soon as the reactors close. Removal of fuel assemblies from the fuel pools to dry cask storage must be accelerated to the maximum extent safely possible.
- Gas generation on site is unwise and unnecessary. As NYS experts have testified, we have an ample supply of electricity and no one can predict the state of the electricity market decades in the future when it might be possible to reuse part of the site. See the Joint Hearing of NY Assembly & Senate on closing Indian Point: https://www.nysenate.gov/calendar/public-hearings/february-28-2017/indian-point-nuclear-power-plant-shutdown. Oil, gas, coal and uranium must be left in the ground as part of the effort to avoid carbon in our atmosphere.
- There is no permanent repository for high level radioactive waste. Interim storage would entail shipping high level radioactive waste twice and contaminating even more communities. The fuel rods will have to be will be stored on site using the best possible technology. Dry cask storage using Hardened On Site Storage, is by far the safest method. Rolling Stewardship, which is a way to pass on the responsibility for the management of high level radioactive waste to future generations, is the best way to ensure organized, long term storage and supervision of high level radioactive waste.
- The decommissioning fund must be carefully monitored by the Citizens Oversight Board and clear guidelines established as to what this money can be used for and who bears responsibility for expenses above what is in the decommissioning fund..
- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency all have a role to play in decommissioning. It is important to clarify the roles of each agency as it applies to Indian Point and what standards they have for different aspects of decommissioning since their standards are not uniform.
- The extent of the authority of the Nuclear Rregulatory Commission over different parts of the site must be clearly spelled out since they are legally responsible only for radioactive structures. The radioactive pool of water underneath the reactor buildings presents a unique and difficult challenge for cleanup. Planning for cost overruns because of this problem may be necessary. The COB can be a clearing house for this type of discussion.
- While each nuclear reactor has unique circumstances some issues may be held in common. It is important to reach out to other reactor communities which are already in the process of decommissioning. They are facing many of the same problems that we will be contending with and could provide valuable insights. The COB is perfectly positioned for this citizen to citizen outreach.
- Transporting high level radio active waste means contaminating another community and creates a trail of contamination through our cities and transportation hubs. Most of the waste would travel by rail for at least part of the journey and The American Society of Engineers has just rated our rail infrastructure as D- at best. Forcing an unwilling community to accept the responsibility for becoming a nuclear dump, as in the case of Yucca Mountain, is anti democratic and immoral. Interim storage would involve moving the fuel rods twice and it is realistic to assume that the site would become defacto permanent storage with no budget and no oversight. Communities that willingly hosted reactors have a responsibility to take care of the high level waste that has been generated.
- Citizens Oversight Board
A Citizens Oversight Board (COB) with robust powers of oversight must be formed and funded through action of the state legislature. This is recommended but not yet mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. All stakeholders, including those who have worked to close the reactors need to be represented. The COB is vital to oversee the process of decommissioning on an ongoing basis and represent the interest of the public. While safely closing Indian Point may initially seem to be about taxes, jobs and real estate the long term work is the actual decommissioning process and the safe storage of radioactive waste. The charge to the COB is supervising the decommissioning and storage process as long as high level radioactive fuel remains on site in order to protect the public interest and ensure that workers, citizens and the environment are not exposed to radiation. The COB must have a strong voice in what will happen, how it will happen, and when it will happen.
When it comes to public safety the legitimate role of the industry is one of contractor and technical advisor – not decision maker. Members of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition are in a unique position to bring value to the work of a Citizens Oversight Board because of our experience in this area as is Coalition member Clearwater. Clearwater hosted the first Decommissioning Forum in 2014. The video of that forum is available on The Environment TV website. Panel 1 is at https://theenvironmenttv.com/2016/06/04/when-nuclear-plants-close-challenges-for-u-s-reactor-decommissioning-panel-1/. Panel 2 is at https://theenvironmenttv.com/2016/06/04/when-nuclear-plants-close-challenges-for-u-s-reactor-decommissioning-panel-2/. The videos of the latest decommissioning forum of June 9th 2017 which was organized by Clearwater and NRDC are available at http://www.lohud.com/search/indian%20point%20decommissioning%20forum/ Our members have studied the rules and regulations surrounding Indian Point over the years. We have attended Nuclear Regulatory Commission meetings over the years asking questions, and demanding answers. We have become familiar with the agency, its regulations and how it operates. This experience is a great advantage as we move forward into decommissioning and would be a valuable resource to the COB, allowing it to function more efficiently.
Ideally, decommissioning will begin as soon after shut down as possible. It must proceed in a deliberate, orderly fashion with short term and long term goals spelled out in a timeline in regard to removing the waste from the fuel pools, putting it in dry casks and the eventual cleanup of the site. Disposal of low level nuclear waste must be mapped out with equal care. Staffing for the decommissioning process must start with the experienced Indian Point workers who are the only ones in a position to have an institutional memory of the facility. Additional training will be required for the safety of these workers since they will be facing different challenges and dealing with highly radioactive material in new ways. Broad reuse of the site will not be possible as the site is being actively decontaminated. Future use of the site will have to be determined as safety permits. On site storage is currently the only option for storing high level nuclear waste and information as to the amount of land required for all of the dry casks has not yet been release. Hardened On-Site Storage or HOSS is a much safer option than lining casks up like bowling pins on a concrete pad and does require more land. It is discussed later in the document.
- Gas generation
For many the most important question to ask is – when will the cleanup of high level radioactive waste make it possible to consider other options for the site. Gas generation is frequently mentioned as a possibility. It is the position of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition that a gas plant should not be built on this site. Fossil fuels and uranium must be left in the ground if we are to meet our obligation to future generations and mitigate climate change. In addition, the market has replaced Indian Point which is why they are going out of business. Additional generation is unnecessary for the stability of our grid. Testimony at the Joint Hearing of NY Assembly & Senate on closing Indian Point: https://www.nysenate.gov/calendar/public-hearings/february-28-2017/indian-point-nuclear-power-plant-shutdown which took place February, 2017 makes it abundantly clear no replacement electricity is needed. We have an excess of electricity according to all professional sources and the demand for electricity is decreasing at about 2% per year due conservation and efficiency. Market conditions are changing rapidly and the grid is moving toward distributed generation rather than large utility sized generation. It is impossible to predict where the market will be decades down the road when reuse might be possible.
- Storage of High Level Radioactive Waste
Fuel assemblies will be stored on site. There is no other place for them to go. The idea of centralized storage was promulgated at the beginning of the nuclear age as a way for the companies producing high level radioactive waste to divest themselves of the responsibility of taking care of it by transferring it to the Department of Energy for transport to centralized storage. The State of Nevada was chosen for this purpose but did not want to become the nuclear dumping ground for the country. Yucca Mountain was taken out of the budget years ago and while it is now being reconsidered as an option, the State of Nevada continues its fierce opposition. Transporting thousands of tons of high level wastes through communities across our nation and dumping high level nuclear waste on an unwilling host community is the height of arrogance and is undemocratic in the extreme. Moving the waste requires contaminating another community and endangering communities along the transport route.
It is the position of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition that high level radioactive waste should not be transported to another site. There is no research to prove that centralized storage is safer. The community where the waste was generated is now responsible for it in all but the most exceptional circumstances such as that required by rising water bodies or other effects of climate change. The Department of Energy has collected fees from reactor owners since the beginning of the nuclear age. This money is earmarked for cleaning up the site when the reactors closed and returning the property to a green field. Since we do not have a national policy on nuclear waste or a depository for spent fuel, the DOE could not accept fuel assemblies and keep its part of the contract. The industry took DOE to court and asked to be relieved of paying into the decommissioning fund and instead be paid for storing fuel on site. The courts ruled in favor of the industry. Entergy has not paid into the decommissioning fund since it purchased Indian Point in 2001. The fund has grown only as interest has accrued. As long as the fuel is on site, it is the property of the license holder.
At Indian Point the license holder is responsible for moving fuel assemblies from the fuel pool into dry cask storage. Fuel assemblies, the highest level of radioactive waste will be stored in stainless steel canisters inside of concrete casks to protect people and the environment from radiation. These casks are not designed for transport nor are they designed for transferring waste. Should something break or start to leak, as it inevitably will, contents will have to be transferred under water into a new cask because of the high level of radiation. Water pools must be available and viable to enable the transfers. Radioactive isotopes in the fuel assemblies are lethal for extremely long times. Plutonium will be life threatening for 240,000 years. Over the years the concrete will crumble as it becomes activated by the radioactive material within. It is critical that top quality materials and models be used to ensure as long a life and as few transfers as possible. Performing the critical operation underwater with robotic equipment provides maximum safety for workers and the environment; therefore, it is necessary to maintain a fuel pool and supportive infrastructure as part of decommissioning and long term storage.
- Hardened On Site Storage and Rolling Stewardship
Since high level radioactive waste inside each cask will far outlive the stainless steel canisters and the concrete casks in which it is placed, it is critical that top quality materials be used to ensure as long a life for the casks and as few transfers as possible. See some of the questions raised by people working on dry cask storage and steel canisters at the San Onofre reactor at https://sanonofresafety.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/urgentnuclearwastecanisterproblems.pdf. Casks must be placed strategically on the property and protected by earthen berms and other techniques rather than lined up on a concrete pad like highly visible giant bowling pins. A critical need is a topographical map of the site, with indications of potential rising water levels from the Hudson River over the next 100 years, overlaid with the amount of room required for dry cask storage.
The casks will require ongoing monitoring so that any problem can be discovered and fixed before radiation is released to the environment. This means technical monitoring and visual inspections by people who have been trained for the job and are aware of the risks involved. This kind of monitoring is called Rolling Stewardship and is proposed by nuclear expert and scientist Dr. Gordon Edwards and others. It calls for an independent Citizens Oversight Committee to be put in place that will oversee the nuclear waste, its isolation from the environment and the protection of the community. The work of safely maintaining the casks and transferring the fuel assemblies to safer storage if and when technology improves must be transparent and public. Dr. Gordon Edwards envisions 20 year shifts for workers. At the end of that period the safe monitoring of the casks would be turned over to a new crew which would stand ready to implement any improvements in technology. Listen to a short video by Dr. Edwards on this topic at https://youtu.be/1xWdKvsotAE.
- The Decommissioning Fund
The amount of money in the decommissioning fund for Unit 2 and Unit 3 and what it can be used for must be clarified and codified. A decommissioning fund was created by law so that money would be available to return the site to a green field when the plants ceased operation. Ratepayers have been taxed and the fund for Unit 2 and Unit 3 has grown over the years even though Entergy has not made additional payments to this fund since they purchased Indian point in 2001. Both Unit 2 and Unit 3 meet Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards for the amount of money in the decommissioning fund. However, at other reactors the process has proved much more expensive than originally estimated. Strict standards must be spelled out for what the funds may be used for and what happens should any money be left over. Money from the fund going back to the company that oversees the decommissioning is an incentive for the company to cut corners and pay less attention to expensive safety features in order to maximize profits. The finances of any company that purchases the plant in order to decommission it for a profit must be carefully vetted and their past performance thoroughly investigated.
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission Responsibility
The responsibility of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for supervision on site must be clearly spelled out. They are not required to oversee the entire process, but are responsible only for supervising radioactive buildings and areas of radioactivity. Their responsibility for each structure on the Indian Point site must be clearly spelled out. If they are not overseeing the removal of low level radioactive material it must be clearly established how standards have been set and who is monitoring compliance. It must be determined what effect leaving the fuel pool and supporting infrastructure intact will have on site cleanup. It has been established by the NRC and Entergy that there is radioactive water under the plant. This is currently being monitored by special wells on site as the contaminated water makes its way to the Hudson River. It is unknown if the cleanup for this radioactive pool is covered under the decommissioning fund and the cost has yet to be determined. It must be established as to what is involved in removing this radioactive water and how this major problem will be handled. The amount of low level radioactive waste such as filters, tools, clothing, walls, and floors must be quantified and proper disposal outlined. Industrial buildings on the site are not covered under the decommissioning fund: disassembling them in order to return at least part of the site to green field status is a problem that must be clarified. The role the Department of Energy will play and when their standards will be in effect must also be clarified. The standards of NRC and DOE are different and it must be spelled out which standards apply to various elements of decommissioning. The Environmental Protection Agency has the final say on returning the site to public use. Given the proposed budget cuts for this agency it is not clear that EPA would be able to meet this obligation.
There is no generic method to decommission nuclear reactors and the sites they have contaminated. Each site is different and presents its own challenges. That is why the standard way of assessing the decommissioning fund may not prove adequate to clean up Indian Point. Careful thought must be given to how any short fall between what is in the fund and what actions are required must be thoroughly considered. Whose standards will be used for different parts of decommissioning – will it be NRC, EPA or DOE’s since these standards are different and not always compatible.
- Communicating with Other Citizen Oversight Committees
Other communities have decommissioned reactors or are in the process of doing so. Regular communications between the Community Boards from different reactor communities would be valuable in understanding how others have handled the problems of decommissioning and what has worked best. Vermont Yankee is currently being decommissioned and some local officials have already visited the site to talk with officials and residents. Unlike Indian Point which is a Pressurized Water Reactor, Vermont Yankee is a Boiling Water Reactor with its spent fuel pool suspended above the reactor. While dismantlement would be different, handling high level radioactive material would be similar. North Star, a new company that is entering the nuclear waste business, is bidding to do the job of decommissioning. The local advisory panel has expressed concerns over their financial ability to do the work, especially since their partner Westinghouse is going bankrupt. Zion, a Pressured Water Reactor in Illinois, is a sister plant to Indian Point. After the license expired, the original owner of the reactor sold the property to Zion Solutions for decommissioning. Zion Solutions is a new corporation that is entering the field of nuclear waste management. The oversight group there has also expressed some concerns. Bringing stakeholders from both reactors to Westchester for a public panel on decommissioning would be extraordinarily valuable.
- Transportation of High Level Nuclear Waste
There has been a plan for the transportation of high level nuclear waste since the reactors were constructed since the original plan was for the federal government to take possession of the waste and store it in a national depository. However the plan for shipping fuel rods fails on many accounts. There is no research to indicate that centralized storage is any safer than maintaining hard cask storage on site. More importantly, there is no place to ship the waste. While Yucca Mountain is again being considered against the will of the people of Nevada, the science is clear that the site is geologically unacceptable. It is much more geologically active than first thought and also much wetter. It is very close to the aquifer that supplies water to Los Vegas. A national depository would require moving high level radioactive fuel on the crumbling infrastructure of our roads and rails through cities and busy transportation hubs. The State of Nevada has blocked shipping routes on the roads to the reservation where Yucca Mountain is located. Yucca Mountain alone is not big enough to hold all of the high level waste that has been generated, so, the question arises where will the next nuclear dump be and how would fuel rods be transported to that location. Doing the numbers makes it clear that transporting the waste is a decade’s long projec . The procedure for deciding which reactors would have their waste transported first is extremely complicated. According to Ralph Vartabedian who reports on the radioactive waste at San Onofre, “The timing of waste shipments to a permanent site is determined by the so-called contract queue, a legal document so complex that federal bureaucrats have dedicated their entire careers to managing it.” The queue was structured so that the oldest waste would go into a future dump first. Where Indian Point would fall into that order for transport is not clear. Military waste and waste from early experimental reactors like Brookhaven could well take precedent.
So called interim storage is now being considered and it is uncertain who would get to ship waste there first, should it be built. The same procedures for a permanent for storage in a permanent facility may or may not apply. Objections for shipping to an interim site are the same as for shipping to a permanent site, nothing changes the dangers involved in this dangerous and lengthy undertaking. It is also highly likely that should this happen, interim sites would be forgotten about and neglected over the years. Money to monitor these sites is not forth coming because of the attempt to sell them as “temporary.” Whether high level radioactive waste is considered for shipment to a permanent or interim facility, the conclusion is the same.
It is safer and easier to secure and to isolate high level radioactive waste from people and the environment if it stays where it was generated and not transported anywhere. Rolling Steward ship and Hardened On Site Storage provides two models for this and are discussed elsewhere in this document. This is a difficult proposition for those communities which face major disruption and are losing tax revenue as the reactors close. Tax revenue is an important consideration and it is understandable that Cortlandt would like to reuse the property. However, the land is not leaving the tax rolls and is taxable at a lower rate. Help for workers and the community is built into the closing agreement. Hopefully, reimbursement can be legislated for the storage of the fuel rods. Closing the reactor was not part of the nuclear deal the community made with Entergy or even thought about. Decommissioning, including moving the spent fuel rods into dry cask storage will take decades. Transport to either permanent or interim storage is unlikely in the foreseeable future. The only realistic option now is to look at the science and the time frame for what needs to happen on the property, accept that changes will have to be made, and plan accordingly for the long term benefit of the community.
Some Pending Questions:
When will a map of dry cask storage be available? How would the map differ if the much safer Hardened On Site Storage is used? Do maps take into consideration the expected rising waters of the Hudson River in 100 Years?
Who will determine the quality of the casks that will be used to store the fuel assemblies? How much input will the Citizens Oversight Board have in this decision?
How will the ongoing monitoring of casks be managed once the fuel pools are emptied? Can Rolling Stewardship be implemented for this purpose?
If Entergy chooses not to do the decommissioning work and sells the reactors to another company, how will this company be vetted to guarantee that they have adequate expertise and financial wherewithal to do the necessary work to return the property to a green site and be responsible for long term monitoring of the waste?
How will the radioactive water underneath the plant be removed while leaving the fuel pool and its attendant underground piping in place for future transfer of fuel rods when a cask breaks?
There is no good solution to the storage of nuclear waste. It is important to remember that there is no way to get rid of high level radioactive waste and decontaminating one site means contaminating another. We do know how to package, store, and monitor high level radioactive waste so that it can be isolated from people and the environment. Our community benefited from the generation of electricity that produced this waste that is lethal for 240,000 years. It is now our responsibility to assume stewardship for it for our own safety and that of future generations.
Special thanks to Dr. Gordon Edwards for his valuable information and forward thinking presentations on the beginning of the Age of Nuclear Waste. His contributions to this paper are gratefully acknowledged. For more information about Dr. Edwards visit https://closeindianpoint.wordpress.com/ or The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility www.ccnr.org. Information about the Montreal Declaration for a Nuclear- Fission-Free World can be found at https://ratical.org/radiation/MDforN-FissionFreeWorld.html.
What Happens When a Nuclear Plant Closes: A Decommissioning Forum
Dr. Gordon Edwards on the Age of Nuclear Waste and Rolling Stewardship: https://youtu.be/1xWdKvsotAE
Visit www.theenvironmenttv.com for other informative videos on this topic
Other Sources of information
Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC)
Union of Concerned Scientists
Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)
AGREE (Alliance for a Green Economy)
Food & Water Watch
The Environment TV
For more information contact the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, https://closeindianpoint.wordpress.com/ or call us at 888-474-8848. Visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CLOSEINDIANPOINT/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel.