An in-depth look at the end of the nuclear power industry as we know it, and what lies ahead for the communities where plants are powering down. Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Indian Point, an aging and increasingly dangerous nuclear power plant, is finally closing under a landmark agreement struck in January 2017 by the state of New York, its owner Entergy and Riverkeeper.

Closing Indian Point comes at the right time. Since 2017, New York has already completed enough energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy projects to replace Indian Point 2, the first reactor to close. New York is also well on its way to replacing Indian Point’s last reactor with clean energy. 

Recently, however, there has been a spate of opinion pieces published in various media outlets, including The Journal News, making dubious claims regarding Indian Point’s closure and replacement energy. This disinformation campaign is a last-ditch effort by entities with longstanding nuclear-power interests to distort the facts and derail New York State’s progress as it transitions to clean, safe energy. The entire basis of their argument — a battle between nuclear power and fracked gas — is a false dichotomy. In reality, we can close Indian Point and transition away from fossil fuels.

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

Nuclear-energy interests also ignore well-documented safety dangers that Indian Point poses. In one 12-month period, just before the 2017 closure agreement, Indian Point suffered seven major malfunctions — pump and power failures, a transformer explosion, radiation leaks, a fire and an oil spill. Then, as if to put an exclamation point on the case for closing Indian Point, inspection results showed that over 30 percent of the bolts holding the plant’s two operating reactor cores together had become impaired, by far the worst result of any such tests at any reactor, worldwide. Furthermore, a 2011 Nuclear Regulatory Commission study rated Indian Point number one for risk of meltdown due to earthquake, and a 2003 study commissioned by then-Gov. George Pataki concluded that the plant’s evacuation plan cannot protect the public in an actual emergency. Most recently, the NRC’s Office of Inspector General showed that safety evaluation for the siting of a high pressure gas pipeline close to Indian Point was riddled with flaws.

Since Indian Point’s closure was announced, annual renewable generation and energy efficiency savings have increased roughly 6,550 GWh statewide, equivalent to energy generated by one of Indian Point’s reactors. This is an important data point that pro-nuclear writers ignore. For years, environmentalists have pointed to energy efficiency as a powerful replacement for Indian Point, and the data show that the state’s energy efficiency policy can and will deliver. 

Clean resources now in operation or under development will contribute some 20,000 GWh annually by 2024, exceeding Indian Point’s annual generation of 16,334 GWh. By 2025, New York’s landmark 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is poised to drive an additional 23,600 GWh in solar energy and efficiency savings. Put together, that’s enough green power and demand reduction to close Indian Point more than 2.5 times over. And, that’s before we add another 1,700 MW in offshore wind capacity, which the state contracted for in 2019.  The drive for renewables also got a boost from recent measures to streamline siting processes and regulations that will close dirty peaking plants in New York City.

These data show that we can close Indian Point and we are transitioning towards energy efficiency and renewables. Over time gas plants will close as this transition occurs. Nuclear proponents are promoting a false dystopian vision of forced toxic choices, by trying to tear down the promise of energy efficiency and renewable energy with outdated and false claims about what renewable energy can do.

In their latest gambit, nuclear-energy interests are seeking to link the imminent closure of these reactors to the region’s response to COVID-19, warning of potential blackouts. This fear-mongering is devoid of any factual support. Far from threatening blackouts, the current crisis has driven power demand in New York City down by 12%. In addition, study after study shows that the grid will be as reliable as ever. In short, we have a public health crisis, but we do not have an energy crisis.

It’s time to move beyond Indian Point. The risks associated with this plant are too great. Job-creating, community-revitalizing renewables, storage and efficiency projects offer a tailor-made economic recovery engine for New York and a more hopeful, reliable and clean energy game plan for generations to come.

Cliff Weathers is Riverkeeper’s communications director. 

By Cliff Weathers