A decades-long drumbeat of lawsuits, petitions, letters and public testimony has forced the closure of the Indian Point nuclear facility outside of New York City. Gov. Andrew Cuomo — together with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the environmental watchdog Riverkeeper — struck a deal in January with Entergy Corporation to shut down its two nuclear reactors at Indian Point. One reactor will go offline in 2020 and the other in 2021, with a possible extension to 2025.
“It’s a win for the safety of our communities, a win for the Hudson River and all the rich variety of life within it, and a win for a clean, sustainable energy future,” said Riverkeeper president Paul Gallay while local officials expressed concerns about the impact of the closing on workers and the area economy.
Licenses for the power station had, in fact, already expired in 2013 and 2015, respectively, but the reactors continued to generate electricity under a Nuclear Regulatory Commission rule that allows operators to continue running reactors while their applications are under review. Under the new deal, Entergy abandoned efforts to re-license the reactors, which would have permitted them to operate for 20 more years.
In return for the promised shutdown, New York State and Riverkeeper agreed not to object to Entergy’s application for a six-year license extension through 2025, and to drop their active lawsuits against Entergy for various safety and environmental violations. The state will maintain legal authority to bring new cases, if needed.
The increased utilization of wind, solar and hydroelectric power, together with energy efficiency measures, mean the plant closure will have little to no effect on New Yorkers’ electricity bills and would create no increase in carbon emissions.
Entergy also agreed to establish a $15 million fund for environmental restoration. Also under the terms of the deal, Entergy will provide continued employment through the closure process and offer workers jobs at other facilities. New York State will assist workers seeking jobs at other power facilities and the state’s Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) will provide training in new skills in renewable energy technologies.
Most critically, the agreement provides for vigorous continued state inspections and a long sought directive to transfer irradiated spent fuel rods from vulnerable cooling pools to dry cask storage containers.
Spent fuel rods exit reactors with more lethal radioactivity then when first loaded to produce power. Currently the rods are packed in water-filled ponds, a structure with no more protection than a public swimming pool. The ponds must constantly be replenished with cool water from the Hudson River to prevent a Fukushima-like meltdown — a process that winds up killing more than a billion fish and their eggs every year, as heated water is recycled back into the river.
Spent fuel remains lethally toxic for some 300,000 years and putting the rods in guarded dry cask storage is considered the safest possible option at this time by most nuclear experts.
The agreement was enthusiastically welcomed by activists spanning generations. Beginning in 1962 when Indian Point first went online, tens of thousands of people marched, petitioned, sang protest songs, met with their elected officials, organized town halls and benefit concerts and testified in court and at regulatory hearings. They raised alarms over the leaks, incidents of radioactive contamination and exceptionally high rates of cancer, leukemia and birth defects that have plagued Indian Point for decades.
Now, environmental groups are calling on Gov. Cuomo to stop the Spectra gas pipeline, which will to run right past the Indian Point reactors — buried less than a mile away at some points.
And while the governor was instrumental in Indian Point’s closure he has also offered $7.6 billion in subsidies to keep three Upstate nuclear power plants along Lake Ontario running: Exelon Corporation’s Ginna and Nine Mile Point plants and Entergy’s James A. FitzPatrick plant. Entergy and Exelon Corporation announced plans to close the facilities last year as they were no longer profitable. Cuomo’s cash infusion will keep them online.
Alice Slater serves on the Coordinating Committees of People’s Climate NYC and World Beyond War and as the U.N. NGO Representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.