The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a briefing with reporters Tuesday about the upcoming decommissioning of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The Westchester County-based plant is scheduled to permanently shut down Unit 2 next week, and Unit 3, one year later.
NRC officials presented a slideshow, with various experts discussing aspects of the decommissioning process. In April 2019, Holtec and Indian Point parent Entergy agreed that Entergy would transfer its three Buchanan-based Indian Point reactors to a Holtec International subsidiary for decommissioning. Holtec submitted a license transfer application to the NRC in November, and the Commission is reviewing the application. Bruce Watson is NRC chief of the Reactor Decommissioning Branch in the Division of Decommissioning Uranium Recovery and Waste Programs in the Office of Nuclear Materials Safety and Safeguards.
“We are evaluating Holtec’s technical and financial qualifications to decommission Indian Point,” says Watson. “Such reviews typically take on the order of about a year; however, our review could be completed later this year.”
When the NRC accepted the application for formal review, local lawmakers and community members were concerned about Holtec’s ability to decommission the plant. At the time, Entergy and Holtec issued a joint statement saying Holtec’s plan would decommission the plant decades sooner than Entergy. Again, the NRC’s Watson:
“The presidentially-appointed commission that oversees the NRC is considering requests for a hearing on Indian Point license transfer application. There is no exact time frame as to when a decision will be rendered on this,” Watson says. “However, it’s important to point out that NRC regulations do not preclude the staff from issuing a decision on the application prior to a Commission determination on the hearing request, provided the commission does not object.
New York state Attorney General Tish James released a statement in January expressing what she called multiple grave concerns about the application before the NRC. The public comment period closed March 25. Ted Carter is a project manager in Watson’s office.
“Prior to or within two years of permanent shutdown, the NRC requires the submittal of a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, or PSDAR, which is, essentially, a roadmap of how a plant will be decommissioned," Carter says. "Holtec submitted a PSDAR for Indian Point on December 19, 2019 but, because the NRC is still evaluating a request to transfer the plant’s license from Entergy to Holtec, we are not actively reviewing that PSDAR at this time. If the request is approved, we would do so at that time. If the license transfer application is not approved, Entergy would need to submit its own PSDAR for the plant within two years of shutdown.”
Richard Chang also is a project manager in Watson’s office. He says Holtec’s plan calls for all spent fuel from Units 2 and 3 to be moved into dry cask storage as of early 2024. All of Unit 1’s spent fuel is already in dry cask storage. Unit 1 was shut down in 1974. Holtec projects completion of the demolition of all three units by 2032, with site restoration projected to be completed by the end of 2033.
“With respect to estimated costs, Holtec’s plan anticipates the cost of decommissioning Unit 1 as $598 million; Unit 2 as $702 million; and Unit three as over $1 billion, for a total of roughly $2.3 billion. Please note that these amounts include site restoration costs, which the NRC does not oversee. Our focus is on the radiological cleanup of the site,” says Chang. “As of the end of 2018, the decommissioning trust fund for Indian Point Unit 1 held $471 million; Indian Point 2 contained $598 million; and there was $780 million set aside for Indian Point Unit 3. The funds at that time added up to more than $1.85 billion.”
Again, local lawmakers and community groups are concerned about Holtec’s financial ability to safely decommission the plant. The NRC monitors decommissioning trust funds to ensure there is enough money for the decommissioning work. Soon after the presentation to the media, the NRC officials delivered the same publicly. Similar to other nuclear power plants that are prepping to cease operations, Indian Point has requested a change to its emergency plans. Anthony Dimitriadis is a branch chief of decommissioning.
“Specifically, Entergy has asked that the requirement for formal offsite radiological emergency response plans for the plant be eliminated. If the exemptions are approved and implemented, Indian Point will rely on a comprehensive emergency management all-hazard planning for offsite emergency response activities rather than having a dedicated NRC-approved radiological emergency response plan,” Dimitriadis says. “As a result, there will also not be a 10-mile emergency planning zone identified in the license for the plant. However, the plant will maintain an onsite emergency plan and response capabilities, including the continued notification of local government officials for emergency declaration and coordination with offsite response organizations.”
Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi says any changes to emergency planning at Indian Point will be commensurate with the reduction in risk that comes following the shutdown of the power plant. He says Unit 2 will shut down April 30 at 11 p.m. Unit 3 is slated to shut down by April 30 in 2021.