The cost to dismantle, demolish and remove the plant and store the fuel rods is estimated at $2.3 billion.

The cost to dismantle, demolish and haul away the Indian Point nuclear plant and store the fuel rods is estimated at $2.3 billion. (Entergy)

CORTLANDT, NY — Cortlandt residents concerned about plans to tear down the Indian Point nuclear plants and store the radioactive waste crowded into Buchanan Village Hall this week to hear from Holtec International, the decommissioning company that could become the plants’ new owner.

The sale to Holtec by Entergy must be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Municipal and school officials here are scrambling to deal with the loss of the plant. Operations at Indian Point 2 will end by April 30, 2020 and Indian Point 3 will stop by April 30, 2021. The power plant is half of the village of Buchanan’s tax base, one-third of the Hendrick Hudson school district’s annual tax base, pays $1 million a year to the town of Cortlandt and pays Westchester $4.5 million a year in lieu of taxes. It employs close to 1,000 people.

But the big questions now are what will happen to the site after decommissioning: what can be repurposed and what will be done to store the spent nuclear fuel and the radioactive waste that will be a byproduct of the dismantling work.

Holtec estimates the cost of the dismantling project to be $2.3 billion. Though the plants’ decommissioning trust funds only contain $2.1 billion as of the end of October 2019, Joe Delmar, Holtec’s senior director of government affairs, told the crowd at Buchanan Village Hall that the fund would continue to grow during the 12 to 15 years of the project, The Journal News reported.

However, Holtec has also asked the NRC to let it divert $632 million from the trust fund to cover the cost of managing the highly radioactive spent fuel rods.

According to the NRC, radioactive waste is generated while decommissioning and dismantling nuclear reactors and other nuclear facilities. There are two broad classifications: high-level or low-level waste. High-level waste is primarily spent fuel removed from reactors after producing electricity. Low-level waste comes from reactor operations. Spent fuel is thermally hot as well as highly radioactive and requires remote handling and shielding.

In November, Riverkeeper, the Hudson Valley environmental watchdog group, came out in November against the sale.

Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said Holtec’s recent history makes it the wrong choice to take on the decommissioning of Indian Point, saying the company is involved in bribing scandals at the Tennessee Valley Authority and in Canada.

Not only does Holtec have limited experience with decommissioning, its spent fuel management system at San Onofre nuclear power plant has serious design flaws, he said, adding that whistleblowers allege risk-taking with spent nuclear fuel canisters.

“Riverkeeper demands that the NRC deny the license transfer to Holtec and require that Entergy select a qualified company to take on the arduous tasks of decommissioning, site clean up and management of spent radioactive fuel, while keeping 20 million New Yorkers safe,” Gallay said. “Since federal oversight is so weak, we are also counting on Governor Cuomo to assert the state’s jurisdiction to supervise the license transfer, reject Holtec, and ensure that there is robust and transparent oversight of the decommissioning process. New York should do everything in its power to ensure that the reactor site is decommissioned in a safe, effective and prompt manner.”

And that was before Holtec filed papers with the NRC Dec. 19 about its plan to move much of the demolished plant by barge down the Hudson River. The alternative is moving the estimated 7 million cubic feet of radioative material by truck.

Holtec’s plan is to transfer all of the used nuclear fuel to its dry fuel storage cask systems to be stored at the on-site reinforced concrete pads. They will remain under guard, monitored during shutdown and decommissioning, and subject to the NRC’s oversight. The federal government is legally obligated to take it but has made in the past half-century no provisions to do so. Holtec has proposed running an interim storage facility in New Mexico.

By Lanning Taliaferro