The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held its annual public meeting on the Indian Point plant in Westchester Thursday night. The few who attended had a long list of questions about decommissioning.
NRC officials briefly spoke about the 2018 safety performance of the Buchanan-based plant, with all inspection findings and performance indicators of very low safety significance, or green. And while Indian Point opponents who turn out every year at these meetings took issue with the green designation, most of the comments and questions focused on how the agency will handle the decommissioning of the plant. This past April, Indian Point’s parent company Entergy announced it would sell the plant after shutting down to a subsidiary of Holtec International. Jerry Nappi is spokesman for Entergy.
“So Holtec is confident it can decommission Indian Point decades sooner than Entergy could if we continue to own the plant. That’s really a good thing for the community. It basically enables the site to be redeveloped potentially decades sooner than if we, again, if we continue to hold it,” Nappi says. “So that process, as we’ve stated, is we expect to file the application in the fourth quarter of 2019 and expect that to be approved in time for us to transfer the facility to Holtec after Unit 3 is shut down in 2021.”
Unit 2 is slated to shut down in April 2020. Unit 1 was shut down in 1974. Once the NRC receives the application, any approval could take up to one year. Diane Screnci is NRC spokeswoman.
“So when there is an application to transfer a license, we assure that the company that the license would be transferred to has the technical and the financial ability to, in this case, it would be safely decommission the plant so that the, and it’s both, financial and technical capability of doing that,” Screnci says.
Riverkeeper Legal Director Richard Webster has concerns about Holtec’s financial ability.
“The comments here, I made some comments about the NRC allowing licensees to take money out of the decommissioning fund for spent fuel management, and that’s not what it’s for,” Webster says. “And there’s a limited amount of money. It sounds like a lot of money, $1.8 billion in the decommissioning fund, but we think we need to save every dollar in that fund because we want to make sure that there’s enough money to do the job thoroughly and effectively all the way to the end.”
NRC officials say they ensure the financial health of a company and take action if necessary. And so ensued a back and forth between Webster and NRC officials. Riverkeeper is a party to the agreement reached in January 2017 to close Indian Point. And Webster did speak about Indian Point safety.
“Well, I think the first concern is ongoing vigilance and safety," says Webster. "Obviously, the plant’s closing, there’s not a lot of incentive for Entergy to invest money in any safety upgrades, so we just want to make sure there’s no safety downgrades going on as the plant goes down to closure.”
“The employees at Indian Point live in the community. Many of them live nearby the plant. They have great pride in what they do,” says Nappi. “We basically have about the same number of employees today as we had when we announced the shutdown. They are going to stay at the plant until the end, operating it safely just as they’ve always done.”
He says Entergy invested tens of millions of dollars during Unit 3‘s most recent refueling outage in early spring. Also Thursday, the NRC announced the license transfer from Exelon Nuclear to Holtec for the Oyster Creek Generating Station in New Jersey. Screnci says it’s the first NRC approval for a license transfer to Holtec in particular. The NRC is now reviewing an application for a license transfer to Holtec of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts, which shut down earlier this year. Others in the audience raised questions about storing the spent fuel, including Jacqui Drechsler.
“So I have really big fears about more radiation leaks,” says Drechsler. “And I really feel that for the safety of the country that these casks should not be moved.”
One activist voice was notably absent — Gary Shaw. The founding member of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition died in May. His spouse, and friends, were on hand, and even NRC officials expressed their sympathy and noted his absence and loss for the community. Drechsler says she was arrested with Shaw during an Indian Point protest about six years ago.
“Well, it was very bittersweet to have this meeting tonight without Gary because Gary was a driving force in motivating people to come and speak, to express themselves to whatever degree they could, and to always tell their truth and hold people accountable,” Drechsler says.
There are 22 plants undergoing decommissioning; 10 in the active phase.