NEW YORK TIMES 03/07/16
By Michael Shank and Paul Gallay
Ossining, N.Y. — LAST month, samples showed a spike in the amount of radioactive tritium being discharged from Indian Point Energy Center into the groundwater near our homes along the Hudson River. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered several state agencies to carry out an inspection of the nuclear plant just 45 miles north of midtown Manhattan; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also sent inspectors.
This radioactive spill is far from the first malfunction at Indian Point, which opened over 50 years ago. In the last year alone, Indian Point has suffered seven major malfunctions — pump and power failures, a transformer explosion, radiation leaks, a fire and an oil spill. Governor Cuomo has ordered a further, full investigation and now says that all these accidents demonstrate that Indian Point can no longer operate safely.
We agree. Malfunctions can happen at any power plant, but they are happening with disturbing frequency at Indian Point. Its age is problematic, and its safety is doubtful. The licenses for Indian Point’s two reactors expired in 2013 and 2015; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still weighing whether to renew them.
In 2007, Barack Obama called the commission a “moribund agency” that was a captive of the industry it regulated. It still looks that way today.
The commission seems to accept the word of Indian Point’s operator, Entergy, that basic safety and environmental cleanup measures aren’t necessary, even after the latest mishaps. The commission even permits Indian Point to evade its own safety standards requiring that the electrical cables that control emergency reactor shutdowns have insulation that would last 60 minutes in a fire — giving the plant an exemption after finding that this insulation lasted just 27 minutes.
Poor maintenance at Indian Point has caused groundwater radiation levels to soar to 740 times federal limits, yet the commission just handed Entergy a five-year delay of the deadline for testing for possible leaks from the No. 2 reactor — the suspected source of this latest leak of radioactive contamination. The commission admits that tritium in the groundwater will reach the Hudson River and that the radioactive isotope, for which there is no safe dose, can cause cancer.
Indian Point also has about 1,500 tons of radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel rods packed into pools. These, too, are leaking radiological contamination that violates the Clean Water Act. In addition, the plant’s cooling system has devastating effects on the Hudson’s ecology, killing more than a billion fish, eggs and larvae each year as it draws millions of gallons of water per day from the river.
The commission has reported that one of Indian Point’s reactors has the highest risk of all the country’s reactors of being damaged by an earthquake, and federal studies show that Indian Point is incredibly vulnerable to acts of terrorism. Tens of millions of people live within the reach of an Indian Point nuclear disaster. An evacuation would be practically impossible and emergency responses would be largely futile.
A recent poll in the Lower Hudson Valley found that a majority of respondents do not trust the plant’s safety or its operator. The fact is that we have enough power capacity to permit the immediate closure of Indian Point.
Indian Point is able to generate just over 2,000 megawatts of electricity, or about 10 percent of peak summer demand in the New York metropolitan area. According to Riverkeeper’s calculations, however, we already have an additional 1,500 megawatts of energy capacity from other sources: existing electricity surpluses in New York State, recently restored power generation from plants in the Hudson Valley and New York City, together with transmission improvements in the power grid in the lower Hudson Valley and targeted energy efficiency gains by Con Edison.
The New York Independent System Operator, a nonprofit agency charged with managing the state’s electricity market, indicated in a report last year that there would be a net reliability “need” of 500 megawatts if Indian Point was to shut down before this summer. Since that study, though, downstate load forecasts for this summer have dropped by about 500 megawatts, thanks in part to increases in solar power installations.
In short, we can close Indian Point now and reliably keep the lights on. In the future, new efficiency and renewable energy projects will drive still greater savings, thanks to $5 billion in planned energy investments by the state.
We no longer have to rely on this aging, unsafe nuclear plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should cancel Indian Point’s operating licenses immediately and start overseeing an orderly closing.
Paul Gallay, a former lawyer for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, is the president of Hudson Riverkeeper, where Michael Shank is a communications fellow.