The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission late Nov. 23 said it approved transferring the Indian Point nuclear power plant licenses from Entergy to Holtec for decommissioning once the 1,080-MW Indian Point-3 permanently shuts down by April 30, 2021.

The NRC said its order approving the license transfer is effective immediately, but the license transfer will not be finalized until after unit 3’s permanent shutdown and completion of the transaction between Entergy, Holtec and its subsidiary Holtec Decommissioning International, according to a statement.

Additionally, several hearing requests are currently pending before the commission and the license transfer approval is subject to the NRC’s authority to “rescind, modify, or condition” the transfer based on the outcome of any subsequent hearing on the application, the statement said.

Indian Point’s three pressurized-water reactors are located in Buchanan, New York, approximately 24 miles north of New York City. Entergy’s 1,067-MW Indian Point-2 was permanently shut April 30, 2020. Unit 1 was permanently shut in 1974.

Entergy decided to permanently shut and sell the plant for decommissioning due to historically low wholesale power prices and a 2017 settlement with the state of New York. Entergy is in the process of divesting its merchant nuclear fleet to focus on its regulated utility business, the company said in a Nov. 23 statement.

Entergy owns and operates five reactors in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi as part of its regulated utility business.

The estimated cost to decommission Indian Point is $2.3 billion, according to a Dec. 19, 2019, report filed with NRC. Decommissioning activities would take 12 years and begin in May 2021. Holtec bought two other Entergy plants, Pilgrim and Michigan’s Palisades, in 2018, and will decommission them. Decommissioning at Pilgrim in Massachusetts is underway.

NRC hearings

Six entities, including the state of New York, have requested a license transfer hearing by an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. The other petitioners are the Safe Energy Rights Group, the town of Cortlandt, the village of Buchanan, Hendrick Hudson School District and the non-profit group Riverkeeper, NRC staff said in a memo.

State and local officials have expressed concern at Indian Point Closure Task Force meetings that Holtec may lack the technical and financial expertise required to safely decommission Indian Point in addition to its other nuclear power plant decommissioning projects.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said any new owner needs to have the “capability and financial wherewithal to expeditiously and thoroughly decommission and restore the site,” in a Nov. 24 statement. Cuomo urged the NRC to hold the pending hearings.

“As the site’s incoming owner’s agent, HDI, will have soup-to-nuts responsibility for the welfare of local communities and environment,” Pamela Cowan, senior vice president and COO of Holtec Decommissioning International, said in a statement.

“We will continue our ongoing discussions with elected officials, which have been characterized by amicable and transparent dialog to further our shared goal of achieving a repurposed site that supports new jobs and increased tax revenue,” Cowan said, adding that the company will do its “very best” to create new well-paying jobs at the site in emerging green energy technologies like battery storage that are a “principal business thrust for our parent, Holtec International, in this decade.”

Entergy and several local taxing jurisdictions, including the Hendrick Hudson School District, the Village of Buchanan, and the Town of Cortlandt, are currently operating within a Payment In Lieu of Taxes agreement for Indian Point that covers the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 fiscal years, Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said in a Nov. 24 email.

“Holtec International has agreed to take over the Entergy payments of the PILOT should the planned Indian Point transaction occur prior to the end of the 2021-2022 fiscal year,” Nappi said.

Nuclear waste handling

Holtec plans to begin transferring the used fuel from the plant’s pools to the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation, or ISFSI, at the site in less than 2 1/2 years after a reactor’s shutdown, according to the statement.

Holtec’s decommissioning plan will result in the release for re-use of “the vast majority” of the site in the 2030s, with the exception of the ISFSI and its security perimeter, which is where the spent nuclear fuel is safely stored in dry casks until the US Department of Energy transfers the spent fuel offsite, Entergy said in a statement.

The NRC has completed its draft environmental impact statement for the facility in New Mexico and are scheduled to make decisions on the final safety evaluation report in May 2021 and final environmental impact statement in July 2021, Joe Delmar, senior director of government affairs & communications for Holtec International, said in a Nov. 24 email.

“If approved, this would allow the NRC to issue a license for the facility shortly after this period and construction could begin soon after the license is granted based on the funding available. It could be operational as soon as 2024 and begin accepting fuel,” Delmar said.

By Jared Anderson