Lawmakers raise doubts about proposed transfer
The Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan is scheduled to begin its shutdown in April, after which the site will need to be cleaned up and its spent, radioactive rods secured.
Entergy, which owns the plant, doesn’t want to do the decommissioning and so has asked the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the OK to transfer its license to a firm called Holtec International. The cleanup is expected to take 15 years.
The NRC has opened its public comment period on the request. Judging by the mood at a joint Jan. 30 meeting of the Indian Point Closure Task Force and the Community Unity Task Force, the agency can expect to hear an earful.
Holtec has come under scrutiny about its capacity to do the work, as well as its financial health. A presentation by a Holtec representative on Jan. 15 at the Buchanan Village Hall did little to quell those doubts.
“I came out more worried than when I went in,” said Dr. Richard Becker, a councilman for the Town of Cortlandt.
Becker said that a slide in the presentation that detailed Holtec’s rapid international expansion seemed intended to show the company’s financial strength but had the opposite effect.
“In my experience, businesses get into trouble two ways: One, when they don’t have enough business, and two, when they have too much business,” he said.
Becker was also not assured when the representative said he did not know anything about the expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline near Indian Point, as well as how that would affect decommissioning.
One of the plant’s two reactors is scheduled to be shut down at the end of April, with the remaining reactor scheduled to be taken offline in 2021. If the license transfer is approved by the NRC, Holtec would be awarded the plant’s $2.1 billion decommissioning fund.
At the Jan. 15 meeting, the Holtec representative said the company would be responsible for any budget overruns. If the fund ran low, he implied that, the firm would stop work until it could be replenished with the interest earned on its balance.
At the Jan. 30 meeting, Sandy Galef, whose district in the state Assembly includes Philipstown, disputed those claims.
“I don’t think that’s acceptable to us,” she said of the plan. Galef went as far to say that she did not believe the particular Holtec representative should be conducting any further presentations on the matter.
George Latimer, the Westchester County executive, said he would like to see more Holtec public presentations, including in south Westchester. “The discussion of transporting radioactive material out of the plant, down the river — every single river town that’s south of here down to Yonkers will want to know more about that,” he said.
State Attorney General Letitia James also has expressed concern about the proposed transfer, asserting in a statement that Holtec has “absolutely no experience in such an enormous, complex and consequential undertaking. I am committed to ensuring — through legal action, if necessary — that the State of New York is granted full participation in this application proceeding and all other decision-making related to Indian Point’s decommissioning.”
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Proposed Transfer of Indian Point Operating Licenses
NRC Proceeding (NRC-2020-0021)
Deadline: Feb. 24
Proposed Amendment re: Cessation Program Funding Mechanism
New York State Energy Plan
Hearings: Feb. 27 (Albany), March 2 (New York City)
Deadline: March 8
Proposed Transfer of Indian Point Energy Center
New York PSC Proceeding (19-E-0730)
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Deadline: April 7
James and 12 other state attorneys general have protested the NRC ignoring multiple requests by the state of Massachusetts to hold a public hearing over Holtec acquiring the license to decommission the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.
At the Jan. 30 meeting, Galef said she didn’t want to see a similar process play out in New York. “We’re kind of limited as to what we can do as elected officials in getting to have hearings,” she said, noting that state legislators have little sway over federal agencies. “But we can certainly put public pressure on them.”
No matter who ends up decommissioning the plant, state and federal leaders are working on a variety of strategies to counter the loss of jobs after the plant closes. Patricia Keegan, a representative from Rep. Nita Lowey’s office, announced at the meeting that, as part of a recently approved federal spending bill, Lowey had created a $15 million program for economic development in the form of competitive grants restricted to communities that are directly impacted by nuclear plant closures.
In addition, Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker, working with other mayors across the country who preside over municipalities with shuttered nuclear power plants, is lobbying for a federal law that would be referred to as the STRANDED Act, for Sensible, Timely Relief for America’s Nuclear Districts Economic Development. The bill would award municipalities $15 per kilogram of nuclear waste that’s left at a closed nuclear power plant.
There is also a state bill that has passed both the Assembly and Senate designed to protect the jobs of plant employees, although it has not yet been signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. While Holtec officials have said that the company plans to hire Indian Point workers for the decommissioning, some people remain skeptical.
“I would just like to get that in writing” said Lou Picani of Teamsters Local 456. “People tend to get amnesia.”