New York wants the NRC to reject Entergy’s plan to reduce staffing levels at Indian Point while spent fuel is still in cooling pools, saying it’s too risky for a power plant so close to New York City

A spent fuel pool at the Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan, N.Y. shows uranium rods submerged in 23 feet of water. The stored rods came out of the nuclear reactor.  (Photo: File photo by Poughkeepsie Journal)

New York is balking at a request by Indian Point’s owners to reduce staffing levels at the Buchanan power plant while spent nuclear fuel is still in cooling pools, saying it’s too risky for a power plant so close to New York City.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reject Entergy’s request to reduce staffing levels before all the plant’s fuel is moved into steel-and-cement casks.

“The State of New York strenuously objects to that timing and proposal,” state officials wrote in a Jan. 9 letter to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“A spent fuel accident at Indian Point could have unique and devastating impacts on the New York metropolitan area that would be unlike the impacts at any other site in the country,” they added.

The NRC is reviewing the proposal.

Indian Point’s Louisiana-based owner, Entergy, wants to reduce positions the company says will not be needed during the early stages of the plant’s decommissioning when reactors have already been powered down.

The first of Indian Point’s two working reactors is slated to shut down in April and the second in 2021, when workers will begin dismantling and demolishing the 60-year-old power plant located along the shores of the Hudson River some 24 miles north of New York City.

Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said the staff reduction plan has been used at other nuclear power plants.

“Plans to reduce staffing at Indian Point are commensurate with the reduction in risk that occurs after the reactors are permanently shut down and defueled,” Nappi said. “Entergy’s plan for staffing is consistent with previously shutdown nuclear power plants and ensures the continued safety of its workers and the public.”

The Indian Point Energy Center nuclear power plant in Buchanan is pictured in this file photo. (Photo: Peter Carr/The Journal News file photo)

Indian Point’s proximity to New York City and its densely populated suburbs was a major factor in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to call for the plant’s shutdown.

But Nappi says Indian Point is not the only nuclear power plant close to a big city.

“There are nuclear power plants near many other major US cities, such as Washington, D.C., Miami, Chicago, Detroit and others,” he said. 

The state’s letter notes that the federal government approved a license for Indian Point in the years before regulators were required to consider concerns like surrounding populations, seismic hazards and emergency planning in its site analysis.

And, state officials say, the federal government has yet to conduct an analysis of severe spent fuel accidents at Indian Point and how to lessen their impact on neighboring communities.

“Nor has NRC conducted an analysis of an aircraft impact on the site’s spent fuel pools,” the letter states.

Entergy has a deal to sell the 240-acre site to Holtec International, a New Jersey-based decommissioning firm. If the sale is approved by the NRC, Holtec would continue removing spent fuel from cooling pools, a process that Entergy performs now.

Nuclear fuel dry cask storage facility at Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan on Monday, May 20, 2019.  (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)

Once the spent fuel assemblies have cooled, they are transferred into massive steel-and-cement casks positioned on concrete pads that measure the length of two football fields.

The state says spent fuel in the heavily-fortified casks presents less of a risk than they do when they are in cooling pools.

“Until such time that fuel from the reactors is secured in dry cask storage, and therefore any potential risk has been truly minimized, the State of New York’s position is that all on-site emergency responsibilities should be maintained at current levels,” they write. “This will ensure all necessary personnel, planning, resources and tools are in place to protect New York citizens at and near the plants and spent fuel storage facilities.”

Thomas Congdon, the executive deputy of the state Department of Public Service, announced the state’s action at a meeting of the Indian Point state closure task force Thursday  in Cortlandt.

At the meeting, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said the county has sent a letter to the NRC urging it to extend the deadline for when the public can weigh in with concerns about Holtec’s shutdown plans.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer attended an Indian Point meeting Thursday night to weigh in on the proposal to possibly ship plant parts down the Hudson River during dismantling. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)

In plans filed last month, Holtec said it was considering transporting large chunks of a dismantled plant, and possibly spent fuel, down the Hudson River during decommissioning.

Latimer said he plans to invite Holtec to a meeting in White Plains where the company can discuss its plans with officials in towns that could be impacted by the transportation plan.

Area residents attend a public meeting of the Indian Point Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel at Buchanan Village Hall Jan.15, 2020. A representative of Holtec International gave its first public presentation on its plans for decommissioning the plant.  (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)

“When there’s discussion about transporting radioactivity and radioactive material out of the plant and down the river, every single river town that’s south of us down to Yonkers wants to know more about it,” Latimer said.

By Thomas C. Zambito