We can all breathe a sigh of relief next spring when the last working reactor at Indian Point powers down. 20 million people in the 50-mile radius of the 40-year-old nuclear generator can sleep more soundly and future generations will thank us for no longer producing high level radioactive waste that will bedevil the country and our community for years to come.
Not Clean or Carbon Free
Some people are concerned about what they see as loss of low carbon electricity that was generated at Indian Point around the clock. It is a mistake to call nuclear energy carbon free. Anything that is produced has a carbon footprint. It is low carbon – not carbon free. So called base load electricity from Indian Point that runs 24/7 is not part of the new and emerging grid. In fact, it is exactly what got Indian Point in trouble. Electricity was produced when there was no market for it. What our new grid needs is renewable, low carbon generation that is quick on when needed and quick off when demand falls. New York State has done a fine job of addressing this issue with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act that was passed May, 2020. This law is a model for the entire country. It puts us squarely on our way to a cleaner, greener environment and economy. The Sabin Center has prepared an outstanding tracker on this law and other climate and energy related laws that makes it easy to look at this legislation, understand goals, deadlines and the agencies responsible for implementation.
https://climate.law.columbia.edu/content/new-york-state-climate-law-tracker. Public input is an important requirement for much that is scheduled to happen.
Who Is In Charge?
It is interesting to note that the closer we get to the closing date for Unit 3 the louder is the noise for Governor Cuomo to keep Unit 3 open. Evidently, those protesting are not familiar with the laws governing nuclear power plants and the regulations imposed by the ruling body, in this case, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Governor has no legal authority to either close or open a nuclear reactor and while the NRC can order a reactor closed in case of danger, it cannot order the owner of a corporation to keep a reactor running against the wishes of its owner.
There are stringent rules set by the NRC that nuclear power plants are technically supposed to comply with. The most recent is a letter issued by the NRC on July 30, 2020, (EPID L-2019-LLL-0025} approving less security for Unit 2 since the fuel has been removed from the reactor. The letter makes it plain that the reactor can never be “refueled.” Staff security training will now focus on protection of the spent fuel. While Unit 3 does still have an operating license, it expires on April 30, 2021. At that Point Entergy will apply for the same less expensive change in security requirements just granted to Unit 2.
There has been a lot of misinformation about who is responsible for closing Indian Point. This letter ends that speculation once and for all as it refers to the original closing agreement. “By a letter dated February 8, 2017, (ADAMS Accession No. ML17044A004) Entergy submitted a notification of permanent cessation of power operations for Indian Point Nuclear Generating Units 2 and 3. In this letter Entergy notified the NRC of its intent to permanently cease operations no later than April 30, 2020 and April 2021 for Indian Point 2 and 3 respectively.” Indian Point is closing because of a business decision made by the owner of the corporation. In our deregulated energy market companies that are not making a profit close down and that is exactly what Entergy has done with all six of its nuclear reactors in the Northeast. The company is retreating South where they have a monopoly and do not have to worry about competition.
What is next for Indian Point? Decommissioning! This means cleaning up the property in a prompt, safe manner and returning it to a greenfield that can go back on the regular business tax rolls. Rapid decommissioning could take from 12 to 15 years or even longer but must be done securely. The AIM gas pipeline that runs next to the spent fuel building presents one important obstacle to this massive deconstruction process. The threat of a possible rupture and explosion engulfing the spent fuel pool must be taken into account. For more information on this visit www.senrg.org . It is important to note that the NRC does not have authority over the complete process. They will only supervise anything that is radioactive. Holtec, the company that is in line to do the decommissioning will take the lead for the rest of the work. That means that some of the buildings may well remain on the property. Certainly, the irradiated fuel rods will remain as current law requires. Entergy estimates that when all of the fuel rods are in dry casks, they will take up the area of approximately two football fields.
Transporting High Level Radioactive Waste
It is important to note that Holtec is working for a change in the law so that they can transport high level radioactive waste to New Mexico. The NRC in compliance with industry wishes has issued a ruling that might allow for this. This new interpretation of the Atomic Energy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act which prohibit the establishment of an interim nuclear dump until a permanent location is available is now being challenged in the Washington D.C. court system.
There are several things to keep in mind when thinking about high level radioactive waste. Transporting it over our roads through villages, towns and neighborhoods with all of the truck loads of radioactive waste that decommissioning will generate is asking for trouble with accidents, fire or deliberate attacks. In theory, transporting high level radioactive waste to “temporary” storage means it would have to be moved again to permanent storage at a later date when the waste casks would be older and perhaps damaged. More likely, the “temporary” storage would become permanent and high-level radioactive waste would be left out in the open to crumble unsupervised in what amounts to an abandoned parking lot.
More importantly, people in New Mexico, the designated location, do not want this waste. That was made very clear when citizens spoke at the last NRC meeting on this topic. The Governor and other decision makers in New Mexico have promised to fight this, much like those in Nevada who stopped Yucca Mountain – the original choice for the nation’s permanent nuclear waste dump. Sending our high-level waste to contaminate another community that does not want it is undemocratic and some would say immoral.
Holtec: Is this Corporation Trustworthy?
What about Holtec, the company that is proposing this as a solution for removing the fuel rods from the Indian Point property? Their reputation is less than savory and other communities where they have done decommissioning work have not been happy with the way they have ignored community questions and concerns. Holtec is a big international company based in New Jersey where they were recently involved in a criminal court case for bribery. There have been problems on the international scale as well, as they were barred from working with the World Bank for years.
Holtec, will basically act like a contractor and many people who have had the experience of finding and hiring a contractor know how difficult that can be. Any contractor, no matter how good, needs to be supervised and for a job this big it takes more than a local group from one community. Indian Point is a regional matter and to ensure that New York State taxpayers are not stuck with a big bill when the Decommissioning Trust Fund runs out, we need a New York State Decommissioning Oversight Board. People on this Board need to represent the wide range of people in our community. Certainly, the Village of Buchanan where the reactors are located must have a prominent seat at the table. Their community will suffer the most from the closure and they deserve all the help that they can get. Some monies have already been set aside and there are other funds from NYS and from Entergy that will be devoted to Buchanan. Assemblywoman Galef just sponsored a bill that was passed this session of the legislature for this purpose.
New York is poised to make great strides in decarbonizing our economy with the recently passed Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. People in different regions of our state are meeting now and figuring out how to meet the high goals set by this law. You will be hearing more about this as these groups reach out to others in their communities. Look for an opportunity to participate. Things must change; we cannot continue on our regular path if we are to hand over a livable planet to future generations. We now have laws in place and we will soon have maps of the carbon foot prints of our communities. All of us are now part of an ongoing process to make New York a renewable, nuclear free energy leader.
All fossil fuels and uranium must remain in the ground if we are to survive on this planet.
Marilyn Elie, Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, United for Clean Energy, August, 2020