Joe Delmar, Senior Director for Government Affairs and Communication for Holtec International speaks during a public meeting of the Indian Point Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel at Buchanan Village Hall Jan.15, 2020. Delmar, representing Holtec International gave the first public presentation on the company’s plans for decommissioning the plant. At right is Theresa Knickerbocker, Mayor of Buchanan and Chairperson of the advisory panel.  (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)

Originally posted Feb 2 2020

New York Attorney General wants full participation in the Indian Point decommissioning proceeding by Holtec International.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James leveled “multiple, grave concerns” about the third-party subsidiaries decommissioning the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan in a statement today.

The strongly worded statement was released the same day as the start of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s review of the deal that will allow a private company, Holtec International of Camden, NJ, to decommission the reactor. 

James said in her statement that Holtec has no experience with “such an enormous, complex and consequential undertaking.” She also questioned whether the company had the proper financial resources to carry out the project.

James said her office would take legal action if necessary to ensure the state has full participation in the application proceeding and all other decisions related to the decommissioning. 

The state’s criticism Thursday came months after The Journal News/lohud along with multiple USA Today Network newsrooms published a detailed investigative report into Holtec and others’ bids to take over the decommissioning of nuclear power plants. 

Titled “The Nuclear Option” the multi-part project looked into the profits that private companies would make by decommissioning nuclear power plants. The private companies promise to complete the process faster than the companies that now own the plants.  At the time of publication, there was approximately $60 billion in the country’s trust funds dedicated toward the eventual closing of America’s nuclear plants.

The USA Today Network report noted that watchdog groups, politicians, scientists and experts on decommissioning nuclear plants questioned whether safety will be sacrificed for speed, as profit-seeking companies rush to finish one job so they can move on to the next. The profit motive was also cited in the Attorney General’s legal brief.

In 2017, Indian Point’s owner, Entergy, announced that it would shut the nuclear power plant down in 2021. One of the plant’s two reactors will stop producing electricity in the spring while a second will be shut down next year.

NRC and New York

James already has some experience fighting the NRC.

Last week her office filed a brief in support of the Massachusetts state government in its fight with the NRC. James was joined by 12 other attorneys general in the brief.

The brief was filed in Massachusetts after Holtec gained the license to decommission the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, MA.

When the Massachusetts state government learned Holtec was getting control of the Pilgrim plant, it requested the NRC hold a hearing. The NRC didn’t respond.

Then the Massachusetts government asked for a 90-day hold on approving the deal to  discuss the issues, which the NRC declined and let the deal go through.

The NRC declined to comment for this story.

New York has yet to file a request for its own hearing, and the AG’s office doesn’t know if it will as of now.

Neil Sheehan, spokesperson for the NRC, said the window to request a hearing on the Indian Point license transfer application will remain open for 20 days — closing Feb. 12. The window for the public to submit comments will be open for 30 days, closing Feb. 24.

James’ brief highlighted both environmental and financial risks with decommissioning a reactor.

“Plants undergoing decommissioning often generate more toxic waste than operational plants, increasing the risk of soil and water contamination,” James wrote. “Unexpected costs are almost certain to arise because Holtec’s cost estimates were based on historical data and do not account for unanticipated site conditions or events.”

The filing argued two main points, that the decommissioning process could have far reaching effects on each nuclear plant being decommissioned across the country, and the NRC broke the law when it didn’t hold the hearing that the Massachusetts state government had requested.

Holtec says it met all the standards for taking control of the plant.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that Holtec met the required regulatory, legal, technical and financial requirements to qualify as licensee and decommission Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station,” Patrick O’Brien, a Holtec spokesperson said, but further declined to comment on the brief.

Aerial shot of Indian Point power plant on the shores of the Hudson River in Buchanan. (Photo: File photo by Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News)

Holtec’s plan outlined

Holtec International on Thursday July 25, 2019 in Camden, N.J. Nj Tax Breaks (Photo: Tariq Zehawi and Thomas P. Costello/USA Today Network)

Entergy will sell the power plant and its surrounding 240 acres to Holtec, a New Jersey-based decommissioning firm, pending NRC’s approval. Holtec has promised to do the job in 12 to 15 years, significantly less time than Entergy estimated it would take to complete. 

Hotlec presented its plan to the public last Thursday in front of a standing-only crowd. It would cost about $2.3 billion to tear the power plant down. If the cost exceeds that estimate, Joe Delmar, Holtec’s senior director of government affairs, said at the forum taxpayers would not be stuck with the bill. 

New York is having trouble with the math that the trust can cover the cost.

“The materials it has provided to the State are so incomplete and redacted that the State’s experts cannot replicate Holtec’s conclusion that the trust’s funds are sufficient,“James wrote. 

Currently there are 21 nuclear plants undergoing decommissioning. Holtec — in the near future — might be responsible for decommissioning six reactors.

“It is essential that the decommissioning of Indian Point be rapid, complete, and safe,” James said.

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, speaking in her Ossining office July 9, 2019. Galef is looking for a statewide solution to the issue of state owned land not being taxed. Very few parcels of state owned property in Westchester County are taxed, depriving the county and local municipalities of tax revenue. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)

Trust in Holtec questioned

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, said she is pleased the AG’s office is involved after last week’s public meeting with Holtec left more questions than answers. There were “a lot of gaps” in the information Holtec conveyed, Galef said.

She said she doesn’t want the Indian Point site to turn into a “dead plant”‘ with no potential for redevelopment. 

“I came away from that meeting saying I don’t know if I can trust this company,” Galef said. “They haven’t performed, they don’t have a track record.”

State Sen. Peter Harckham said the state needs to be “intimately involved” in the decommissioning because state and local officials don’t trust the NRC to oversee it.

Harckham said Delmar was unable to answer basic questions about environment, safety and labor issues.

“This is too sensitive a matter to just rush into and say we’re awarding this to one company without everybody doing their due diligence,” Harckham said.

Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi said in an email that safety is the most important aspect for town residents as she awaits the NRC’s conclusion.

Riverkeeper Legal Director Richard Webster said the organization has no experience decommissioning and the plans presented to shut down Indian Point are inadequate. “As much legal firepower needs to be brought to the table as possible,” Webster said.

By David Propper and Frank Esposito