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Riverkeeper testifies before PSC in opposition to Indian Point’s license transfer to Holtec

Indian Point

Photo: Cliff Weathers

Today, Riverkeeper is providing oral and written testimony opposing Entergy’s petition for the Public Service Commission to approve the transfer of the Indian Point nuclear power plant and the associated $2 billion decommissioning trust fund to Holtec. The PSC’s decision is ever more critical to protect New Yorkers as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to examine serious concerns raised before their approval of the license transfer. Please read our statement (below) and submit your own written comments at this link

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on this momentous decision. I am Victoria Leung, an Associate Staff attorney with Riverkeeper, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of the Hudson River from source to sea and safeguarding drinking water sources. In addition to making these comments orally, I am also submitting a written version for the record to supplement the written comments that we already submitted. 

Riverkeeper has been engaged on issues surrounding Indian Point Energy Center for decades and is a signatory to the 2017 Indian Point Closure Agreement along with Entergy and the State of New York. Having achieved the shut down of the Indian Point reactors, we now want to ensure the site on which they sit is restored to productive use as soon as possible. The decommissioning of Indian Point has the potential to impact the surrounding environment and communities for decades, The State must therefore ensure it is completed in a safe, thorough, and efficient manner by rejecting the proposed transfer to Holtec, an entity that has little experience in decommissioning and a long history of lies, bribes, and risk-taking. 

First and foremost, the Public Service Commission can and must assert jurisdiction over the transfer and retain its oversight authority throughout the decommissioning process. Federal jurisdiction only extends to cover nuclear safety – all other aspects are retained by the state – such as economic oversight, land use, and non-radioactive contamination. This distribution of roles is retained even after retirement of nuclear plants, and early termination of state jurisdiction would lead to a highly problematic regulatory gap. Compounding this problem is that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has dismissed the requests of the Attorney Generals, the local Towns, and Riverkeeper for an adjudicatory hearing on various issues, including Holtec’s fitness and character.

Governor Cuomo has already announced his intention to convene an advisory Board to supervise decommissioning while it is ongoing, but the PSC is the primary agency that can scrutinize the proposed transaction before it closes to safeguard the $2bn trust fund and ensure the decommissioning is carried out by a company that, unlike Holtec, has a strong track record of ethical behavior and technical experience. 

Riverkeeper also calls on the PSC to use its jurisdiction and reject the transfer to Holtec because Holtec has little experience decommissioning nuclear power plants and is likely to cut corners to maximize its profits as shown by its long history of unethical behavior. For example, Holtec was suspended from contracting with TVA due to a bribery scheme. It then lied under oath about this issue to the State of New Jersey to obtain $260M of tax credits, which have subsequently been suspended. At the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, Holtec ignored a stop work order from the local municipality, resulting in litigation that has recently been settled. In addition, Holtec’s partner, SNC-Lavalin pled guilty to bribery in Libya and paid a fine of C$280M.

Furthermore, there is a strong danger that the trust fund could run out of money before the job is complete. Holtec is bringing none of its own money to the table and has placed all the financial risk on the public. Worse, Holtec is proposing to use around $800M of the trust fund for non-decommissioning purposes, such as spent fuel management and site restoration without offering any guarantees that it would return any of this money should the trust fund run short before the decommissioning is complete. This is egregious because Holtec will likely obtain reimbursement from the federal government for around $700 of spent fuel management costs. The financial risk is particularly acute because the reliability of its cost-estimate is questionable at best, due to a lack of site investigation and the vagueness of Holtec’s decommissioning proposal.

Finally, to date Holtec has failed to propose active remediation of the contaminated groundwater under the site. We believe that to prevent further pollution to the Hudson River active remediation of both radioactive and non-radioactive contaminants in the groundwater is essential, 

In conclusion, after many years of good work by safety and environmental advocates, State Agencies and the Governor, we are a long way towards eliminating the risks and harms associated with the operation of Indian Point and instead having a greenfield site that can be developed for productive use. However, it is critical that we do not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Allowing Holtec to become the decommissioning entity would be fraught with risk. There is the danger that Holtec will walk away with the money from the decommissioning fund without actually finishing the main task. Alternatively, Holtec’s record and the incentives provided here, lead to a strong danger that it will cut corners, endangering Westchester residents and the environment, in order to make an excess profit. We therefore urge the Commission to reject the transaction as proposed. At minimum, the Commission must impose conditions on the transaction to mitigate the risks posed.

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