New Indian Point Oversight Board Forms

Concerns raised about risks to pipelines

With the shuttering of the final nuclear reactor at Indian Point in April, the Indian Point Closure Task Force is no more.

But, per the order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Indian Point Decommissioning Oversight Board has formed and held its first meeting last month. The board consists of the same mixture of state officials, elected officials and worker representatives that made up the task force, with additional stipulations that the board have a member of the environmental community and an expert on nuclear power plants. 

Those positions have been filled by Richard Webster, the legal director for Riverkeeper, and Dave Lochbaum, a retired nuclear engineer who has worked at Indian Point, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a reactor technology instructor. 

As with the Closure Task Force, the board will have no legal power in and of itself. But it consists of many members who do have legal authority, such as state representatives and members of state regulatory agencies, including the Departments of Environmental Conservation and Labor. Many of the laws passed with regard to the closing of the plant arose out of Closure Task Force meetings, such as securing funding over the next several years to offset lost tax revenue from its shutdown. 

“To have this dedicated funding mechanism in place, it gives certainty to the taxing jurisdictions that this program will be there to assist them,” said Tom Congdon, the chair of the Oversight Board and the executive deputy of the state Department of Public Service.

Some of the items tackled in the first meeting picked up where the task force left off, including making sure that Holtec, the company that will be decommissioning the plant, is in contact with local unions and trade groups to make good on its agreement to hire local workers. New action items included setting up a real-time monitoring device at an elementary school near Indian Point to detect radiation, and creating a whistleblower hotline for the workers decommissioning the plant.

“Some of the most important information we can get will be from the employees themselves,” said Congdon. “And we want the employees to know that this oversight board takes worker safety very seriously.”

Of particular interest to the board is the monitoring of the two natural gas pipelines that pass under Indian Point. A 2018 safety assessment of the pipelines conducted by the state highlighted the risks that the plant’s decommissioning could pose, specifically when the pipes are excavated for maintenance and other work. 

Enbridge, the company that operates the pipelines, is planning on excavating the pipes this summer for “preventative maintenance.” The board’s next meeting, which has not been scheduled, is expected to focus on safety concerns. 

Lochbaum, the retired nuclear engineer, said that while the risk of a nuclear accident at a plant being decommissioned is less than one at an operational plant, “it isn’t zero.”

“You can’t let down your guard just because the hazard is diminished, because if [radiation] gets to places it shouldn’t be, problems can develop.”

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