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Closing Indian Point makes New York safer and more energy secure

Closing Indian PointOn April 30, the aging and increasingly dangerous Indian Point nuclear plant shut down for good, under an agreement reached between New York State, plant owner Entergy and Riverkeeper in 2017. And, thanks to over a decade of work by state energy officials, New York is replacing Indian Point’s power with clean, reliable energy — we’re already consuming less fossil fuel-based power than we were when the closure agreement was signed. There’s also a new deal to decommission the plant, with full state and community oversight, which will expedite clean-up and could allow productive reuse of the Indian Point property within fifteen years. 

Make no mistake about it, Indian Point needs to close, given the clear and present danger it poses to the 20 million people living and working in its shadow. For example, a 2017 inspection revealed unprecedented structural problems within Indian Point’s two reactors. A 2013 study prepared for the Department of Defense called Indian Point a top-ten terrorism risk compared to other US nuclear plants, and a 2010 Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) report found it to be the single most earthquake-vulnerable nuke plant in the nation. In 2003, New York State examined Indian Point’s laughable evacuation plan and rejected any notion that it could protect us in a real-world emergency. And, in the 12 months preceding the 2017 closure agreement, Indian Point experienced one major mishap after another, from an explosion to flooding, power failure, oil spill, fire and radiation leakage. The risk of a catastrophic accident or attack at Indian Point grew even greater after the NRC inexplicably provided the plant with major exemptions from fire safety standards and inspection requirements, demonstrating why Barack Obama once rightly called the Commission a “moribund agency.” Indian Point also fails to meet Clean Water Act standards, killing over a billion fish, eggs and fish larvae each year and contributing to the decline of the Hudson River ecosystem. 

Fortunately, a decade of planning for Indian Point’s closure has readied New York to pivot to safe, sustainable alternatives. The state’s Public Service Commission began closure preparations in 2012, ordering local utilities to study potential alternatives. Then, in 2016, New York adopted a “Clean Energy Standard,” requiring a ramp-up to 50% renewable energy by 2030. In 2018, the Public Service Commission ordered utilities to triple their energy efficiency programs, spurred in part by Riverkeeper and NRDC’s 2017 “Synapse Report”, which illustrated how energy efficiency alone could replace the power generated by Indian Point. 

Most significantly, New York put itself in the position to become a national energy policy leader by enacting the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires renewable energy to supply 70% of our power by 2030. That same year, the state imposed a tough new “peaker plant” rule requiring air pollution cuts and driving closure of numerous old, inefficient fossil fuel-based power generators. Last year brought additional energy efficiency mandates plus a new state law to expedite siting of large renewable energy projects and benefit host communities. 

Thanks to the decade-long planning effort described above, energy efficiency and renewables are poised to replace Indian Point’s power output roughly three times over by 2025. Contracted-for offshore wind projects will add another full equivalent in output by 2028. Even now, after closure of one of the plant’s last two operating reactors in April 2020, renewables and efficiency savings have helped cut New York’s total fossil fuel-based power consumption to levels roughly 10% below where they were when the Indian Point closure agreement was signed in January 2017. 

The last key aspect of the plan to close Indian Point came into place on April 14, through a new multi-party agreement governing decommissioning, spent fuel management and public oversight. Among key provisions of this agreement: all spent fuel will be moved from the poorly protected, leaky pools currently in use to safer dry-cask storage by 2024. Radiation on site will be brought below protective state standards that are significantly tougher than the NRC’s. There will also be a performance bond, protections against depletion of the decommissioning trust fund and oversight from multiple state agencies, to help assure success. Finally, all these commitments will be carried out under the watchful eye of a Decommissioning Oversight Board made up of government and non-profit leaders. Thanks to this new agreement, the Indian Point site could be put into productive use in as little as 15 years, as opposed to the sixty-plus-year timeframe allowed by the NRC. 

In sum, New York is on the verge of ending the very real and well-documented risk of a catastrophic accident or attack at the Indian Point nuclear plant and positioning the Indian Point property for productive reuse. Energy efficiency and renewables have cut fossil fuel-based power consumption to levels below those in place when the Indian Point closure agreement was signed in 2017, with vastly more renewable energy and efficiency savings coming on line over the next four years. Due to a decade of careful planning, New York will be safer and more energy secure, following the historic closure of Indian Point on April 30. 

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