Indian Point’s Unit 2 reactor shut down late Thursday after nearly 46 years generating electricity for Westchester County and New York City.

At 11 p.m., a reactor operator in the control room pressed a red button shutting down the nuclear fission process in the reactor.

“Over the last 45 years, thousands of dedicated professionals have operated Unit 2 at Indian Point — safely, securely and reliably,” said Chris Bakken, the chief nuclear officer for Entergy, Indian Point’s owner. “We owe each of them our thanks for a job well done and for their commitment to the highest standards of professionalism.”

Drone photo of Indian Point Power Center in Buchanan on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. (Photo: John Meore & Peter Carr/The Journal News)

On Friday morning, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s reactor status page listed “0” for Unit 2’s power output.

In the days leading to the shutdown, Unit 2’s power had steadily dipped to around 60 percent of capacity as the potency of fuel added two years ago gradually diminished.

The shutdown did not appear to have an immediate effect on the state’s power grid. Nuclear power was contributing 31 percent of the state’s power Friday morning, according to the New York Independent System Operator’s daily breakdown. That was roughly the same percentage it’s been over the past few weeks.

Ten Entergy employees were in the control room during the shutdown, spokesman Jerry Nappi said. Entergy had hoped to invite back retired employees who had worked in Unit 2 to view the shutdown, but the pandemic caused by the coronavirus has restricted visits to the Buchanan plant.

Unit 2 had been operating for the last 392 consecutive days, working side by side with its sister reactor, Unit 3, which has now been operating for 370 days in a row.

Unit 3 will power down around this time next year when Indian Point shuts down for good as part of a 2017 agreement with the state of New York and Riverkeeper, the Hudson River environmental group that pushed for the plant’s shutdown in a number of legal and regulatory challenges.

In the coming weeks, once fuel in Unit 2 cools down, the reactor head will be removed and water will be added to the reactor cavity, Nappi said. After that, the still-radioactive spent fuel rods will be moved into a pool beside the reactor.

Eventually, those fuel rods will be moved into some of the dozens of cement and steel canisters on the 240-acre site where the plant’s spent fuel is stored. They will remain there until the federal government designates a site to store the nation’s spent fuel.

Indian Point’s Unit 2 reactor building under construction in the late 1960s. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Entergy)

Entergy already has a deal to sell the plant to Holtec International, a New Jersey-based decommissioning firm. But the license transfer, which is pending the approval of the NRC, would not happen until the plant shuts down next year.

“We view the IPEC (Indian Point Energy Center) site to be valuable land where we can sprout new clean industries and create local employment,” Holtec said in a statement Thursday. “Working with leadership of the local community and state, we will endeavor to ensure a proper future for the IPEC site.”

The company says it will employ technology used during the decommissioning of its Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts to reduce the number of shipments of radioactive cargo through local communities during the dismantling of Indian Point.

Holtec will keep a number of Entergy employees after the shutdown to work on the decommissioning, which is expected to take up to 15 years.

More than three dozen Entergy employees have taken jobs at other Entergy sites in the U.S. and will leave Indian Point at the end of the month, Nappi said.

Unit 2 began generating power in 1974 at a time of great optimism for the future of nuclear power in the United States. But mishaps at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 and Chernobyl seven years later strengthened the resolve of anti-nuclear advocates and led to shutdowns of nuclear power plants.

Indian Point’s Unit 2 reactor under construction in 1968. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Entergy)

In recent weeks, climate scientists like James Hansen decried the reactor’s shutdown, saying it was a mistake to eliminate a source of clean energy from the state’s power grid. Hansen and others predict that natural gas will fill the energy gap left when Indian Point shuts down next year.

“Many people will die because of the stupidity of this action, in which a nuclear power plant is closed before all fossil fuel power plants have been closed,” Hansen told The Journal News/ two weeks ago.

Entergy cited reduced revenues linked to the cheap price of natural gas as a major factor in its decision to close the plant.

On Friday morning, natural gas and dual fuel — natural gas or other fossil fuels — were contributing about 31%of the state’s energy needs. Hydropower coming from upstate New York near Niagara  Falls was contributing 33%, while renewables like wind and solar power were a little over 4%.

The Cuomo administration wants the state to rely on renewables for 70% of its energy needs in 10 years. 

By Thomas C. Zambito