First of two reactors will go offline next week

After decades of production and protests, the Indian Point nuclear power plant will begin to shut down next week with the closure of one of its two remaining reactors.

Reactor No. 2 is scheduled to shut down on Thursday (April 30), with No. 3 to follow in April 2021. The plant was built in 1962; No. 2 went online in 1974 and No. 3 in 1976. (No. 1 was shut down in 1974 because its cooling system did not meet regulatory requirements.)

The scheduled closure was announced three years ago by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Entergy, which owns and operates the plant on the Hudson River near Peekskill.

The question of who will be decommissioning Indian Point to secure its radioactive material is unresolved. Entergy wants to transfer its license to operate the plant to a firm called Holtec International but has met opposition.

Under guidelines established by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a nuclear plant that closes must be decommissioned within 60 years. Many plants do this through a procedure called SAFSTOR, in which the facility is mothballed for 50 years to allow the radioactive material to decay. Holtec wants to begin work immediately to have the plant free of nuclear material within 15 years.

Although Holtec’s finances and some of its business dealings have drawn criticism, the Ossining-based environmental group Riverkeeper said it would like to see a quicker decommissioning process, in part to provide immediate employment for plant workers.

“We want this to be a win for everybody, and we don’t want to see some communities left behind,” said Richard Webster, its legal program director. In the meantime, Riverkeeper has joined forces with other organizations to launch a Beyond Indian Point campaign for renewable energy. Webster said that since the shutdown was announced, a reactor’s worth of renewable energy has come onto the state grid.

Although some level of risk will remain as long as radioactive material is on the site, the risk of an accident will fall significantly when Indian Point is no longer operational, said Richard Chang, a representative for the NRC. “The highest classification of an emergency for a permanently shut-down nuclear power plant would be an ‘alert,’ which is the second-lowest of the four levels of emergency classification used by the NRC,” he said.

Chang said that although the plant will still have emergency procedures after 2021, “changes in reduction and scope will occur.”

What About the Pipeline?

Even with the Indian Point plant closing, there remain concerns about the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline. The 37.6-mile, 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline, which came online in early 2017 and transports more than 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day, passes through the Indian Point site.

In February, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was told to conduct a new safety review after the agency’s inspector general found that an initial study touting the pipeline’s safety used “backward engineering.” The new report, created with specialists from outside the agency and released on April 8, said that although the first report made “optimistic assumptions,” the pipeline is indeed safe.

The new report says that a rupture in the pipeline is unlikely because it “was installed using modern techniques, stringent quality standards and construction precautions.” Even if a break were to occur, the power plant would remain protected because its safety systems are far from the pipeline, the investigators concluded.

Given that both reactors will be offline in about a year, it said, the risk of a rupture affecting them is “very small,” the report said.

The report drew immediate condemnation from local lawmakers. “An independent risk assessment will provide a modicum of reassurance,” said Sandy Galef, whose state Assembly district includes Philipstown and Indian Point. “It is truly the least we can ask for.”

At Riverkeeper, Richard Webster said that while the risk of a rupture is low, the lack of an independent, peer-reviewed study is troubling. “This is an assurance from an agency that has repeatedly said in the past that something wasn’t a problem, and has then had to backtrack,” he said. “When they say the risk is not excessive, what does that mean? At the moment there’s no review and no clear standard.

“The bottom line is that the AIM Pipeline reduces safety. It’s bound to reduce safety, you can’t put a pressurized pipeline next to a nuclear plant and not reduce safety,” he said. “The question is, does it reduce safety to the point where it’s a problem?”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Skidmore College graduate has reported for The Current since 2014 and writes the "Out There" column. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Areas of Expertise: Environment, outdoors

3 replies on “Indian Point to Begin Shutdown”

  1. The shutdown of Indian Point will significantly increase the production of greenhouse gases. It is a shame to throw away a perfectly good operating nuclear plant with a 58-year record of safe operations. But that is par for course our throwaway society.

    Basile was the plant manager of Indian Point 2 from 1981 to 1988.

  2. Shutting down a perfectly good power plant with an excellent safety record makes no sense. Where will the electricity that Indian Point 2 generated come from and at what price? Who will pay for the lost wages and taxes that were generated by the displaced plant employees and all the businesses they supported? What will happen to housing values in the area? Everything we do in life has a risk, starting from the time men left their caves to find food. Let’s control it the best we can and keep improving.

  3. From what I understand, nuclear energy generating technology has improved dramatically since Indian Point was built, but Indian Point is old-school. Plants of its generation are not “perfectly” safe, and they are certainly not “clean energy.” In the short term, for a hot second, it doesn’t produce the pollution that other power generating plants do, but the long-term pollution is there, and it’s far more hazardous. Spent fuel rods have to be stored and cooled for 10 years, and then stored again for 10,000 years. If something goes wrong in the 10-year cooling process, that is a potentially catastrophic situation.

    When Indian Point was built, they did not factor in the two earthquake fault lines across the river, which is alarming. If something major goes wrong at these plants, it is catastrophic on a global level, which means there should be an absolute guarantee that there is almost no risk that anything can go wrong. They should be able to operate with zero risk, or they should be decommissioned and the technology perfected. [via Facebook]

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