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Forum Explores Nuclear Plant Decommissioning With An Eye To Indian Point

A forum Friday in Putnam County focused on nuclear waste storage and decommissioning. Much of the discussion was about the Indian Point nuclear power plant in neighboring Westchester County, which is slated to close by 2021.

The forum at the Desmond Fish Library in Garrison, some 10 miles from Indian Point, drew about 100 audience members who listened to panels on topics such as decommissioning funding and planning and lessons learned from other states. One of those states is Illinois, where Al Hill is mayor of the city of Zion. The Zion Nuclear Power Station closed in 1998. He has some advice for communities like those surrounding Indian Point.

“Prepare now,” says Hill. “Understand that it’s going to be local people and local organizations that affect what happens during decommissioning,” Hill says.

He says about 1,000 tons of nuclear fuel rods are stored in canisters along the lakefront.

“The tax dollars that we lost was huge,” Hill says. “With the spent fuel rods, it’s just that they’re there and we can’t get development along the lakefront and we can’t companies to move into town because they don’t want have the possibility of spending $200 million to build something and then have something go wrong with the spent fuel rods and have them lose the money.”

And he wants to see one of two possible outcomes.

“We want the rods gone,” says Hill. But, if they don’t go, we want to be compensated. It’s that simple. Either get them out or compensate us for keeping them.”

Geoffrey Fettus is senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the forum’s co-sponsors. He says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun work on a draft set of requirements for decommissioning.

“The biggest thing that we think needs to be done is the NRC needs to reestablish itself as the actual regulator and that they get from industry a thorough, detailed decommissioning plan and report  that sets out how everything is going to happen that the NRC can either approve or disapprove of,” Fettus says. “That doesn’t happen now.”

And given Indian Point’s planned closure by 2021, any new NRC decommissioning rules could impact the plant. Catherine Borgia says it will be important to weigh in on these draft rules. The Westchester Board of Legislators Democratic Majority Leader, who also sits on the state Indian Point Closure Task Force, says the forum heightened her concern about what happens with the radioactive material.

“So this has made me more scared about that and I think that one of the things that I spoke about at the task force that this has really reinforced is that fact that we need as a community, as community leaders, all the stakeholders, to really insist that the state, the county and the local government all really advocate for the highest level of federal oversight over this entire process,” Borgia says.

Manna Jo Greene is environmental action director with Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, another of the forum’s co-sponsors.

“In order to protect human health and safety, there has to be a role for more than just the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry,” Greene says.

Greene, who also serves as an Ulster County legislator, wants to see a Citizens’ Oversight Board at the state level and has begun circulating a petition asking that New York establish one as an activate participant in the decommissioning process. And she’d like to see municipalities putting forth resolutions calling for this. She speaks to such boards on the federal level.

“The rules, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules, allow for citizen or community advisory boards, but they don’t require them,” says Greene. “And so, first of call, in redoing the rulemaking, they should require a Citizen Advisory Board for every single reactor in the country as they are closing.”

Again, the NRDC’s Fettus:

“One of the things we think the NRC needs to do a much better job in its upcoming rulemaking on, and we hope they address this, is community transition assistance, that makes sure that everybody from the unions and the workers are well taken care of to the local ancillary community employees that need to be well taken care of.”

Plus, he says:

“And then, of course, there are the huge issues related with the actual cleanup — the spent fuel,   the massive amounts of radioactive material and everything else,” Fettus says. “And when is it going to happen? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Is the state going to be on the hook for any of it, and they shouldn’t be, but these are all the things that should be at the forefront of people’s minds.”

Theresa Knickerbocker is mayor of Buchanan, where Indian Point is based.

“So the biggest think that happened in the Village of Buchanan, I think, in its history was the coming of the nuclear power plant in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. So now this is another big part of our history, the nuclear power plant leaving,” Knickerbocker says. “So, but it’s an opportunity for us to recreate the village, so.”

She attended the daylong forum and plans to report back to the state and local task forces.

“I’m still holding out hope for the redevelopment of that property, not the whole property. There’s 60 acres that are just woodland and I don’t believe Entergy will be using that, but the task force will be looking at that for economic redevelopment. So I can’t put my head in the sand and say, no, no. I can’t be negative. You have to keep your mind open, think out of the box,” says Knickerbocker. “There is other potential sites in the village because what we’re looking to do is replace our tax base. Fifty percent is quite a bit.”

Meanwhile, NRC staff will be in Tarrytown Wednesday for its annual public meeting to discuss the safety performance of Indian Point.