Alleges it was denied hearing on nuclear plant
The state attorney general sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Jan. 22, alleging the federal agency should have held a public hearing before approving a transfer of ownership for the Indian Point nuclear power plant and to prevent the new owners from withdrawing money from a $2.1 billion decommissioning fund to deal with the plant’s used fuel.
The Indian Point Energy Center, located on the Hudson River near Peekskill, is scheduled to be shut down in April. Late last year its owner, Entergy, transferred its license to operate the plant to Holtec, a Florida company that will decommission the plant over the next 12 to 15 years.
The state lawsuit says the NRC should have held a public hearing before approving the transfer and also that the agency improperly gave Holtec permission to withdraw about $630 million from the decommissioning fund to deal with spent radioactive fuel stored at the site, which is the responsibility of the federal government.
“The NRC is attempting to bypass critical transparency and accountability steps, and also is seeking to make New Yorkers pay for the job,” said Attorney General Letitia James in a statement. “The NRC’s unwillingness to hear New York’s valid concerns is a slap in the face to all New Yorkers.”
The NRC did not respond to a request for comment.
Richard Webster, the legal director for Riverkeeper, an environmental group based in Ossining, said the NRC “has a long history of hostility toward giving hearings.” He noted that the agency also denied the state of Massachusetts a hearing before Holtec began decommissioning a plant there. The Massachusetts attorney general sued in 2019, which led to a settlement that included restrictions on Holtec.
New York’s concerns echo many of those voiced by Massachusetts: That Holtec lacks the finances and expertise to do the job and will not fully clean up the plant.
Hudson Sloop Clearwater, which is based in Beacon, said the same thing last year, arguing in a news release that Holtec has been “secretive about its finances” and “hasn’t demonstrated the capitalization required to complete the estimated $1.3 billion decommissioning, as opposed to walking away and sticking taxpayers with the consequences and costs. Its business model is about using the ratepayer-financed decommissioning trust fund and taxpayer money to maximize its profits.”
In a November forum, Joshua Tallent, an assistant attorney general for the state’s Environmental Protection Bureau, said that Holtec’s plans take into account only federal laws for the cleanup, not New York’s stricter requirements.
He also noted that Holtec’s plans do not account for contamination at the site that must be fixed, including of the groundwater. Tallent is a lead attorney for the state in the Jan. 22 lawsuit.
Webster said he had hoped those concerns would be addressed in a public hearing, had one taken place.
“When we’ve had hearings on NRC matters, it nearly always improves the quality of decision-making,” he said. “There’s greater scrutiny applied to the application, and normally flaws are discovered in the application that need to be remedied.”
The lawsuit contends that allowing Holtec to tap into the $2.1 billion decommissioning account — which was funded by taxes paid over decades by residents in their electricity bills — will put undue pressure on Holtec’s finances and ability to complete the job.
Under NRC requirements, the federal government is responsible for managing spent nuclear fuel. Since it has not yet built a long-term storage site, it pays for the costs associated with moving the fuel to “semi-permanent” sites.
For that reason, said Webster, it would seem to make little sense for Holtec to spend the decommissioning funds — unless you consider that Holtec’s primary business before it began decommissioning plants was spent-fuel management.
“So Holtec Decommissioning International will give a contract to Holtec International to do the spent-fuel management,” he said. “My suspicion is that it’ll be a pretty favorable contract since they’re dealing with themselves.”
The money withdrawn by Holtec International from the decommissioning fund to handle the spent fuel will be replenished by the feds, and Holtec will be able to keep anything left in that larger fund when it completes the decommissioning, allowing the company to essentially be paid twice. “It’s double-dipping,” Webster said.
Holtec Decommissioning is seeking to build a semi-permanent storage facility in the New Mexico desert to house the waste from Indian Point, the plant in Massachusetts and another in Forked River, New Jersey. That plan is being opposed by an alliance that includes the State of New Mexico, oil and gas companies who believe the facility would be too close to their wells, and Indigenous rights activists.
Taxing Indian Point
Indian Point is located in the Village of Buchanan; it and other municipalities for decades have collected property taxes from the plant that were set to end in April when it closes. But under a bill introduced in the state Assembly by Sandy Galef, a Democrat whose district includes Indian Point (and Philipstown), and enacted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Dec. 31, the village, the Hendrick Hudson school district and the Town of Cortlandt will be able to assess and tax the housing that contains spent fuel.
Under a separate bill introduced by Galef and signed by the governor, they will also be able to collect “payments in lieu of taxes” from “formerly generating” power plants. (Entergy made lump-sum payments while operating the plant.)
A third bill introduced by Galef and signed by the governor will make it easier for Indian Point employees to be hired for the decommissioning.
“These were unique bills and they’re actually setting standards around the country, which is great,” Galef said on Jan. 23 at a virtual town hall for Philipstown residents.