The state’s Department of Public Service announced that an Indian Point Nuclear Decommissioning Oversight Board would be formed as part of the deal.

Indian Point 3, a last look before it shuts down, April 30, 2021
Indian Point 3 shuts down, April 30, 2021. Mark Vergari, Rockland/Westchester Journal News

The state Public Service Commission has O.K.’d the sale of the Indian Point nuclear power facility to Holtec International subsidiaries, a key step in a protracted round of approvals needed to lock up the sale.

The PSC’s approval came with benchmarks that Holtec must meet, including keeping enough money in a trust to ensure the shutdown and remediation of the site are finished. The state first announced its approval was on track on April 15.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had been pushing for the shutdown of the plant for more than a decade, announced the PSC ruling on Wednesday.

“As Governor and previously as Attorney General, I have been deeply concerned with the safety of the Indian Point nuclear power facility given its proximity to some of the most densely populated areas in the nation,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This is a win for the health and safety of New Yorkers, and the protection of our environment.”

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The sale of the plant by Entergy to Holtec hasbeen controversial. State and federal leaders and environmental groups had expressed concern that money would run out before the 240-acre site was fully cleaned.

The shuttering of the plant will cost hundreds of local jobs and impact the local property tax base. 

Isaac Mattoo fastens yellow plastic hardhats to symbolize the 1,000 jobs lost with the closing of Indian Point, as former Indian Point workers and Buchanan residents gather to recall better days at the power plant while on Broadway outside the plant April 30, 2021. At midnight Indian Point will shut down for good. Frank Becerra Jr/The Journal News

Plus it remains unclear when and how nuclear detritus would be permanently removed from the site. New Jersey-based Holtec wants to build an interim underground repository in the New Mexico desert for the 83,000 metric tons of nuclear waste stored at power plants across the U.S. But the project faces myriad hurdles

The PSC approved a negotiated agreement that involved the two companies, the state, Westchester County and local governments, the Public Utility Law Project, and Riverkeeper, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced. 

In tandem with the decision, the state’s Department of Public Service announced that an Indian Point Nuclear Decommissioning Oversight Board would be formed. State and local officials, union representatives, environmental and technical experts, and relevant state agencies would keep tabs on the shutdown. 

Assembly member Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, called the Decommissioning Oversight Board key “to protect the safety and financial interests of the workers and community members most impacted by the facility’s closure.” 

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

Enough energy?

The plants’ shutdown was announced In 2017 by Cuomo and Entergy.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the sale in 2020. 

NRC’s approval spurred litigation by the state, which Cuomo said was resolved with the agreements contained in Wednesday’s approval by the PSC.

The three nuclear power plants at the site in Buchanan are already decommissioned: Unit 2 powered down in April 2020, and Unit 3 was deactivated last month. Unit 1, which was fired up in 1962, was decommissioned in 1974.

Cuomo said that the state’s energy planners had prepared for the shuttering of the plants and the loss of up to 2,000 megawatts of power from the two remaining units.The plants supplied power to New York City and Westchester.

“Due to the careful planning for the closure, New York remains on track to reliably achieve its clean energy goals,” Cuomo said.

From left, Indian Point 3, 1 and 2 are pictured at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, April 20, 2021. One and two are idle and Indian Point 3 will shut down April 30, 2021. Mark Vergari/The Journal News

But others have warned that the loss of nuclear energy would shift at least temporarily to a bigger reliance on fossil fuels and increase New York’s carbon dioxide emissions. Cuomo on Wednesday said the state would remain within its carbon cap outlined in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Money in a trust

Ever since Holtec stepped in, political and environmental advocates have expressed concern that the money to dismantle and remediate the Indian Point’s three reactors could dry up before the job is done.

Under proposal approved by the PSC, Holtec must:  

  • Keep a minimum of $400 million in the decommissioning trust fund for 10 years.
  • Maintain a minimum balance of  $360 million in the decommissioning trust fund for waste management and radiological cleanup after it finishes the decommissioning;
  • Return 50 percent of the money it recovers from the Department of Energy for spent fuel management costs to the decommissioning trust fund; 
  • Conduct site restoration and remediation under an order on consent with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which will oversee the hazardous materials and residual radiation cleanup at Indian Point, including through the use of an on-site monitor. 
  • Provide funding towards state and local emergency management and response.
  • Provide financial and project reporting to the State and public through a website and other channels to ensure transparency regarding project status and costs. 

Sen. Peter Harckham said it would be important for the state to monitor the complex shutdown process.

“This will take years, if not decades, of meticulous work,” the South Salem Democrat said. “With so much at stake, I appreciate the opportunity to partner with Governor Cuomo and others in bringing together the necessary resources and expertise to effectively ensure the requisite safety of the decommissioning process.”  

By Nancy Cutler and Thomas C. Zambito