Riverkeeper objects to potential transfer
Entergy is looking to the future of Indian Point and hoping that it no longer includes Entergy.
Last month, the energy company filed an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to transfer its licenses to operate Indian Point to Holtec International after the shutdown of the last reactor at the nuclear plant, which is scheduled for April 2021.
Holtec would then begin mothballing the facility, using a $2.1 billion decommissioning fund that has been accumulated by Entergy during the life of the plant. Holtec also has said it would hire about 300 Indian Point workers.
“Entergy is in the power-generation business, and decommissioning is a line of work that we’re not involved in,” said Jerry Nappi, an Entergy representative. “Holtec specializes in the management of used fuel and its affiliates have special expertise in decommissioning. They can decommission the plant decades sooner than Entergy would be able to.”
Entergy’s original plan had been to take 60 years, the maximum time allowed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Holtec plans to do it in 15. (Holtec did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)
The accelerated timeline doesn’t concern Richard Webster, the legal director for Riverkeeper, the Ossining-based environmental group. Many decommissioning projects start with a process called SAFSTOR, in which the plant is monitored for up to 45 years to give the radioactive materials time to decay and lower the amount of hazardous material. By skipping SAFSTOR, “15 years is a reasonable amount of time to do it,” said Webster.
Nevertheless, Riverkeeper has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (or, failing that, Gov. Andrew Cuomo) to deny the transfer to Holtec.
“Our objections can be summed up as: Bribes, lies, poor safety record and under-capitalization,” said Webster.
Holtec is no stranger to controversy. In 2010, the inspector general for the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal agency, found that Holtec had funneled $54,000 to a TVA manager to secure contracts. The firm was fined $2 million and barred from federal contracts for 60 days.
In Ohio, Holtec was awarded tax credits following a 2009 promise to bring 200 jobs to its facility in Orrville. But the jobs never appeared — in fact, the plant lost four positions — and the tax credits were rescinded.
Then, when applying for tax breaks in New Jersey in order to bring a facility to Camden, the company claimed that it had never been barred from working with federal agencies. To push New Jersey to grant the tax breaks, Holtec said Ohio and South Carolina had made generous counterproposals, an assertion both states denied.
Last year, a contractor at the San Onofre nuclear power plant in California, where Holtec has been contracted to manage spent fuel, brought to light an apparent near accident involving a dry cask filled with radioactive fuel. (Plant officials said there was never any danger to the public.) The worker also alleged the site was understaffed and its supervisors often replaced with less experienced managers.
Finally, on the financial side, Webster said he was alarmed at Holtec’s decision at the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey, which has been decommissioning for less than a year, to transfer money from the decommissioning fund to spent fuel management, a move that Holtec has signaled it would also do at Indian Point.
“That’s not what that fund is for,” he said. “And there’s a complicated set of LLCs [limited-liability corporations] designed to shield Holtec International, the core corporation. We just don’t have much information about the financial viability [of the company]. If you were running a huge international business that was making money, you shouldn’t be so desperate to get tax breaks that you have to lie on a form.”
At Entergy, Nappi said that Holtec’s recent approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission show that the issues raised aren’t of concern. “The NRC has approved the transactions for two previous nuclear power plants to Holtec, and that only happens if a company can demonstrate that it has the technical and financial qualifications needed,” he said. “We feel confident that Indian Point will receive approval.”
If that happens, Webster said he hoped that it would at least come with certain conditions, such as the creation of a citizens’ oversight committee with the power to (1) audit the decommissioning fund, (2) subpoena documents, (3) have specialists look at difficult situations, and (4) transfer questions of safety to the NRC.
At the least, Webster said, Holtec should not be allowed to keep anything that remains in the decommissioning fund at the end of the project, as it might encourage the firm to do the job as cheaply as possible at the expense of safety and other concerns.
Of course Holtec is going to try to do the decommissioning of the Indian Point nuclear plant for less than what is in the decommissioning fund. They want (and need) to make a profit. Do you think they are in business for altruistic reasons?
The first mistakes were made by political hacks and non-scientific spokespeople who created a hostile operating environment for Indian Point. Despite the plant’s sterling safety and operating record, hysteria and politics, hand-in-hand, doomed the plant. Endless lawsuits against Entergy, many of which the company actually prevailed in, cut into their bottom line. Two hundred million dollars per year in legal fees?
Death by a thousand cuts has been Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s modus operandi for years. He used taxpayer dollars to fund an endless legal challenge against a legitimate business until he got his way. This is why New York state will die a slow eco-nomic death. No for-profit corporation wants to do business in a state that is fundamentally anti-business. Forget nuclear safety, it was never an issue. This is big donor dollars for Cuomo and other Democrats who thrive on contributions, or at least press coverage, from well-funded celebrity organizations like Riverkeeper, the Natural Resources Defense Council, et al.
Notice how Cuomo fought to keep the upstate nuclear plants open? Without them, there would be no well-paying jobs or tax revenue in those parts of the state that have been eviscerated by regulations and taxes.
Tom is quite right that the closing is a result of scaremongering and politics. It’s nuts for a community to throw away a facility capable of producing large amounts of steady power with a sterling safety record and place customers at the mercy of the general market, where power will have to be bought and transported from nobody-knows-where at costs that nobody can predict.
Indian Point provides more than 25 percent of the power for New York City. That is a heavy load to replace. In the future, this decision will be shown to be one of the dumbest decisions ever made in a state noted for dumb decisions. The closing was pushed hard for several years by a relatively small group of anti-nuclear activists and politicians. But when it came down to actually implementing the decommissioning, was there an open and transparent public discussion? Not a chance. Welcome to the People’s Republic of New York.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission admits every Holtec canister downloaded at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Sta-tion [near San Clemente, California] was gouged the entire length of the canister. These stainless steel canisters are only 5/8-inch thick. NRC material engineers admit that once cracks start, they can grow through the wall in 16 years. The NRC admits carbon particles are embedded in the canister walls in this process, triggering galvanic corrosion. The NRC is ignoring these issues.
The above-ground Holtec systems have similar problems. Canisters unavoidably scrape against vertical carbon steel guide channels as they are downloaded into the concrete storage casks. The concrete casks have air vents, so the only protection is the half-inch thick canisters.
The NRC refuses to require Holtec to have a canister-downloading system that doesn’t scrape and gouge the walls of the thin-wall canisters. The only solution is to require thick-wall casks (10- to 19.75-inches thick) that have ASME N3 Nuclear Pressure Vessel storage certification. Thick casks are the international standard. Thick casks at Fukushima survived the 2011 tsunami and 9.0 earthquake. Partially cracked thin canisters have no seismic earthquake rating.
Gilmore is the founder of SanOnofreSafety.org.