The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently held its annual meeting on the safety performance of New York’s Indian Point nuclear power plant. Audience members generally focused on plans to decommission the plant, which is slated to close by 2021.
NRC officials said both Units 2 and 3 continued to operate safely. Jerry Nappi is spokesman for Indian Point parent company Entergy.
“The plants have been running well. They’re reliable,” Nappi says. “They are in the highest category for safety as ranked by the experts at the NRC, and Entergy’s going to keep running them safely until it’s time to permanently retire them.”
Meanwhile, Indian Point 3 was shut down earlier in June to replace two water seals, or o-rings, that sit between the lid of the reactor and the reactor vessel. Turnout for the annual meeting was light. That’s in stark contrast to the packed room in 2016, with plant supporters and opponents offering competing press conferences before the meeting and a vociferous, sign-waving crowd once the meeting began. This time, there was a new topic up for discussion. Bruce Watson is NRC chief of the reactor decommissioning branch, who noted that decommissioning regulations turn 20 this year.
“Currently we’re working on some regulations, decommissioning rulemaking, that will make the transitioning of power reactors from operations to decommissioning more safely,” Watson says. “There are no safety issues with that and, but we are going to make it more efficient for not only the NRC staff but also the licensees to go into decommissioning.”
He says 20 power reactors are in the decommissioning stage and six in very active decommissioning. Of these six, the NRC expects to terminate four of these licenses prior to Indian Point shutting down. Watson says seven other power plants, including Buchanan-based Indian Point, have announced they will close over the next few years.
The public comment period on the draft regulatory basis for the decommissioning rulemaking ended June 13. An NRC spokesman says NRC staff intends to provide the draft proposed rule for Commission review in May 2018, with the goal of providing a final rule for Commission review in October 2019. Manna Jo Greene, speaking mainly as environmental action director for Clearwater rather than as Ulster County legislator, asked about forming a Citizens Advisory, or Oversight, Board.
“It is absolutely critical that the community that’s going to be impacted during the process of decommissioning participate in that process and that there are independent experts available,” Greene said.
“The NRC’s an independent safety regulator,” Watson said. “And because we are independent, we have to avoid all conflicts of interest so therefore we cannot be the leader and require that as a, these types of panels or committees formed.”
He says the NRC encourages such boards. Greene is part of a petition effort asking New York to establish a Citizens Advisory Board for the decommissioning process. Following up, an NRC spokesman says the Commission is considering whether to provide guidance or recommendations on the formation of such boards or panels.
Mount Vernon Democratic Mayor Richard Thomas, who has been a proponent of Indian Point, brought his concerns to NRC staff.
“And I can assure you that reliability is an issue and a concern of my city. We’re four square miles, one of the most populated cities in America. Emissions are the highest in this region, and my concern is what are we going to about emissions when this plant eventually powers down,” Thomas said. “So my hope is that part of the process is a dialogue about communities like Mount Vernon, black and brown communities that deal with respiratory issues, obesity issues, issues of air quality, issues of reliability in terms of the strength of the electric wiring of our old infrastructure.”
He wonders where the replacement power will come from and how it will affect his Westchester city.
“What we see is emissions from, tailpipe emissions, but also fuel emissions, what kind of fuel sources are we going to have to replace the power. And the goal is to make sure that we go closer to zero, not up,” says Thomas. “And many communities that have retired nuclear power plants, emissions have gone up astronomically. From San Diego to Germany, we’ve seen locations time after time with emissions going up after nuclear plants shut down.”
Paul Steidler is spokesman for New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, whose members include Entergy.
“So there’s really an absence of clarity at this point, not only in terms of how the power is going to be replaced but how those, how those costs are going to be mitigated and minimized to the greatest extent possible here,” Steidler says.
Costs, he says, for new transmission along with economic benefits to Indian Point’s home and surrounding counties. He says New York AREA also is focused on affordability of replacement power.
“Affordability is going to be a bigger challenge with Indian Point closing. It provides 10 percent of the state’s power, 25 percent of the power in the New York City and surrounding area,” says Steidler. “So costs are definitely going to go up. Every independent study that looks at it has found that.”
While announcing the agreement to close Indian Point in January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said replacement power would come from transmission upgrades and efficiency measures along with other generation resources and that there would be more than enough electrical power to replace Indian Point’s capacity by 2021. He also said there would be no net increase of emissions due to the plant’s closure. Environmental groups have pointed to a February report they commissioned showing that low-carbon options will be ready to replace Indian Point’s power.