Powering Down: As Indian Point Goes Off-Line, New Work BeginsMar 31, 2021 11:30PM ● By Marilyn Elie
Indian Point. Photo: Marilyn Elie
by Marilyn Elie
We can all breathe a sigh of relief next spring when the last working reactor at Indian Point powers down. The 20 million people within a 50-mile radius of the 40-year-old nuclear generator can sleep more soundly, and future generations will thank us for no longer producing high-level radioactive waste that will bedevil the country and our community for years to come.
While nuclear energy has long been marketed as the “clean” alternative to fossil fuels, the fact is that anything that is manufactured has a carbon footprint. Nuclear power is low carbon, not carbon free. When calculating the true carbon footprint of any fuel, you must look at the entire fuel cycle, from cradle to grave—or, for nuclear power, from uranium mining to disposal of high-level radioactive waste.
Our goal must be sustainable energy. The best definition of that is from former Norwegian Prime Minister Harlem Brundtland: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Decommissioning Indian Point
What’s next for Indian Point? Decommissioning. This means cleaning up the property in a prompt, safe manner and returning it to a greenfield that can be safely reused. Rapid decommissioning could take 12 to 15 years, but it must be done securely.
A major obstacle to this process is the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) gas pipeline, which runs next to the spent fuel building. The threat of a possible rupture and explosion engulfing the spent fuel pool must be taken into account.
Unfortunately the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not have authority over the complete process. Holtec is in line to do the decommissioning, and therein lies yet another problem. Holtec is a big international corporation based in New Jersey, with an unsavory business reputation. The company was embroiled in a well-documented bribery conviction, later lying about it under oath while seeking a $260 million tax break from the State of New Jersey.
Despite the fact that Holtec is lobbying hard in Congress for centralized interim storage in New Mexico, the irradiated fuel rods will remain on site indefinitely, as current law requires. It is estimated that when all the fuel rods are in dry casks, they will take up the area of approximately two football fields. Moving this high-level radioactive waste to contaminate another community that doesn’t want it is undemocratic at best, and some would say immoral.
New York is poised to make great strides in decarbonizing its economy through the recently passed Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. We now have laws in place that set goals and ways to obtain them. Soon we will have maps of our communities’ carbon footprints so that we can work to reduce them.
People in different regions of our state are meeting now and figuring out how to meet the high goals set by this law. As these groups reach out to others in their communities, hopefully many New Yorkers will look for an opportunity to participate.
To hear the voices of people from other reactor communities as well as those of New York experts on the problems and solutions we are all facing at Indian Point, see the 2020 Virtual Regional Decommissioning Forum on YouTube or on the Clearwater website.
Fossil fuels and uranium must remain in the ground if we’re going to avoid ever-worsening aspects of climate change. We cannot continue on our regular path if we are to hand over a livable planet to future generations.
Marilyn Elie is co-founder of Westchester Citizens Awareness Network and a member of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, a coalition of grassroots and environmental organizations in the Hudson Valley dedicated to the closing of Indian Point and its safe and timely decommissioning. For more information, call Elie at 914.954.6739 or visit IPSEC.