On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement with utility company Entergy to shut down the 2 GW Indian Point nuclear power plant, 25 miles north of New York City. The closure was mutually agreed upon by both New York State and Energy, although the state and the utility provided conflicting assessments of the reasons for closing the power plant.
A statement from the governor’s office read:
The aging 2,000 megawatt nuclear power plant… has posed numerous threats to the safety of more than 20 million residents and the health of the area’s environment. After extensive litigation and negotiations, Entergy has agreed to end all operations at the facility, with plans to close Indian Point Unit 2 as early as April 2020 and Unit 3 in April 2021.
Entergy, on the other hand, offered a different characterization of the closure in a press release:
The two Indian Point Energy Center business units will close in 2020-2021 after providing New York with clean, safe and reliable electricity for more than four decades. The early and orderly closure is part of a settlement in which the state of New York has agreed to drop legal challenges and support the renewal of Indian Point’s operating permits. The closure will complete Entergy’s exit from its merchant stream business due to continued low energy wholesale prices.
The two statements reflect a fraught political and economic environment for nuclear energy in the US. On the one hand, Indian Point has been opposed by environmental groups concerned about the power plant’s proximity to a major metropolitan area such as New York City. Security concerns and economic problems have also plagued the industry. In 2015, the state of New York denied Entergy a water permit for Indian Point, and the company responded by suing New York. Entergy claimed that the state had no power to deny a water permit based on safety concerns and that only the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could do so.
On the other hand, clean energy proponents say it will be difficult to replace Indian Point’s contribution to the power grid with electricity that does not emit greenhouse gases. But according to the New York Times, Governor Cuomo’s office believes that by 2021, when the last reactor goes offline, enough green energy sources will be available to mitigate the effect of the shutdown. The state will also benefit from a hydropower project in Quebec, which will be supplied through new transmission lines.
“A state official said the governor’s office estimated that the proposed closure would add, at most, $3 a month to the electricity bill in the metropolitan area,” the statement said. Time reported. Yet New York residents pay some of the highest utility rates in the country, after residents of Hawaii.
Utility Drive notes that this shutdown does not appear to be part of an anti-nuclear power campaign in New York in general, as Governor Cuomo “also laid the groundwork for the preservation of three struggling nuclear facilities in New York State, citing their importance to the state’s climate goals.” But concerns about operating a nuclear power plant so close to one of the world’s largest cities were heightened by the Fukushima disaster, which prompted the evacuation of more than 100,000 people, according to the World Nuclear Association.
“Indian Point is plagued by numerous safety and operational problems, including bolt failures and various leaks and fires,” the governor’s office wrote. “The densely populated surrounding region has no viable evacuation routes in the event of a disaster, and the plant has experienced more than 40 distressing safety and operational events and unit closures since 2012.”
The reactors are located on the Hudson River upstream from New York City, so any problems that resulted in the contamination of the water supply would spill into densely populated areas. In addition, notable sites in the immediate area range from IBM’s Watson research facility to the West Point Military Academy.
It’s been an interesting year for nuclear power, with PG&E agreeing to close California’s Diablo Canyon facility over economic problems and environmental concerns, marking the end of the Golden State’s nuclear power plants. However, Illinois recently awarded the nuclear power industry an annual credit of $235 million.
At the Indian Point factory, which opened in 1974 and was purchased by Entergy 15 years ago, the 1,000 employees currently working there are offered training in renewable technologies or employment at other Entergy sites across the country.
New York State noted that Entergy will transfer spent fuel to dry barrels “at a minimum of 4 barrels per year and at least 24 by 2021.”