The first of two functioning reactors at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York’s Westchester County is permanently shutting down tonight. It's something that might have garnered some in-person fanfare, but the COVID-19 pandemic has squelched any such recognition. Meantime, two area state lawmakers are promoting a few bills pertaining to the shutdown.
At 11 p.m., control room operators will permanently shut down Indian Point Unit 2, which produced power for more than 45 years. Unit 3 is scheduled to permanently shut down by April 30 next year. Unit 1 was shut down in 1974. State Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblymember Sandy Galef introduced two bills a year ago protecting jobs for the plant’s workers as well as tax revenue for the surrounding communities. And they’ve now sponsored a third bill to establish decommissioning oversight boards for nuclear power plants. Harckham’s 40th District includes Buchanan-based Indian Point. He’s a Democrat.
“We, once again, reintroduced the labor protection bill, which we’ve made even stronger than we did last time. We have a revised version of the ability of the assessor to assess and tax a fuel cask. We revised that working with the Village of Buchanan,” Harckham says. “And now we’ve introduced legislation for an executive-level oversight board of the decommissioning comprised of the heads of state agencies, Homeland Security, DEC, PSC, and other relevant… comptroller’s office, attorney general’s office, all the people who have oversight and jurisdiction at the plant, as well as some community members with expertise in the environmental community.”
Add the COVID-19 financial impacts, says Harckham, and Indian Point communities are distressed. The municipal tax base and local school district funding have long been supported by Indian Point. Galef says maintaining a good portion of that support is crucial, especially in light of unforeseen municipal costs incurred during the pandemic.
“When you think about the Hendrick Hudson School District that is in that area, or the Village of Buchanan, specifically, the fact that our schools, we had flat funding for our schools because of this, and, if we don’t get additional federal dollars, there are going to be major cuts to our educational community,” Galef says. “And it is very hard for the property taxpayers who are losing a huge amount of revenues from the tax base with the closing of the plant. So it just all has come at a terribly difficult time and with all the complications, it makes it even worse.”
The shutdown comes after a January 2017 settlement among Entergy, New York state and Riverkeeper. Again, Harckham:
“You think of the workers; you think of their families. You think of all the people who passed through that reactor and provided energy to all the homes and businesses in the Hudson Valley,” Harckham says. “And your hearts are with them. This has got to be a bittersweet moment. It’s really a bitter moment for many of them.”
“I know, from speaking with some Entergy people that they were really going to have, I don’t say a celebration but, they would have had an event, a big event because it has been very much a part of the community, the nuclear plant, since the ‘70s, those two plants,” says Galef.
Galef, also a Democrat, acknowledges the uncertainty of passing the bills given the pandemic, but hopes for movement soon. Harckham says the bills are priority but legislation aimed at alleviating the economic impacts of COVID-19 and state budget issues will take precedence.
“These three bills are the top of my priority list and have made that clear to my leadership that we’ve all got to realize we’re going to have a reduced bandwidth going forward but only the cream of the crop hopefully we do get done, and these are the three that are at the top of my list,” says Harckham.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials last week updated the public on the decommissioning process. Holtec International wants to purchase and decommission Indian Point. The NRC is reviewing a license transfer application. Meantime, an Entergy spokesman says of the 870 employees, more than 40 have accepted offers to relocate to other Entergy plants in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. Holtec officials say they’ll hire Entergy’s Indian Point employees selected for “Phase 1” of decommissioning.