New York on Nuclear: What's Plan B?

By Darius Dixon
|  Wednesday, Apr 6, 2011  |  Updated 8:15 AM EDT
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
New York on Nuclear: What's Plan B?

Getty Images

For years, Andrew Cuomo has been part of a chorus, urging the shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plant north of New York City, calling it an unacceptable danger to the 17 million people who live within 50 miles of its reactors.

Now, as governor, Cuomo stands to preside over the plant’s potential retirement. But so far, he has yet to spell out a proposal for how the state would cope without Indian Point, which produces about 12 percent of the state’s power and provides a quarter of New York City’s electricity.

Cuomo has had reasons to be otherwise preoccupied, including a state budget fight that was resolved only last week, but the hole in his energy strategy is frustrating both supporters and opponents of Indian Point. It also leaves him just a brief window in which to propose serious changes to the state’s energy portfolio or walk back his many years of opposition to the plant.

“Whether Indian Point shuts down tomorrow or not, it needs to be alleviated because the plant’s not immortal,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that opposes nuclear power. “It’s going to shut down at some point, so some planning needs to be done.”

Others, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, maintain that the city still needs the power plant.

“Short term, we have to have power if we are going to grow,” Bloomberg said in March, “and Indian Point at the moment is a big part of that.”

The debate has gained new urgency in light of the nuclear disaster in Japan, although a vocal and powerful opposition force was targeting Indian Point well before Sept. 11 drew attention to the two reactors’ vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Opponents note that the people living within 50 miles of Indian Point make up almost 6 percent of the U.S. population — the highest concentration in the country for any nuclear plant.

At the same time, the state’s Independent System Operator said in its annual reliability report in September that allowing both Indian Point reactors to retire would jeopardize the reliability of the electricity grid and create transmission choke points.

The initial 40-year licenses for the plant’s two reactors are set to expire in 2013 and 2015. Even if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers extensions, the plant still has to deal with other environmental regulations and contend with the governor’s bully pulpit.

In 2007, as state attorney general, Cuomo championed an effort with then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer to block relicensing of Indian Point.

“We cannot continue to roll the dice with the operation of Indian Point — there is simply too much at stake,” Cuomo said in a statement at the time. He added, “The NRC has repeatedly ignored the danger that Indian Point poses to New Yorkers — from its vulnerability to a terrorist attack, to its incapability to withstand potential earthquakes, to its lack of a plausible evacuation plan in the event of a catastrophe.”

Current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has gladly taken the mantle and, although he’s fallen short of targeting the plant for closure, has led perhaps the most vigorous legal assault on it so far — challenging everything from the NRC’s onsite waste storage rules to Indian Point’s fire-safety provisions.

But nobody has laid out a detailed plan to replace the lost electricity.

Although Cuomo campaigned partly on a promise to close Indian Point, his energy proposals ran thin on what would replace the plant. His “Power NY” agenda merely said repeatedly that “We must find and implement alternative sources of energy generation and transmission to replace the electricity now supplied by the Indian Point facility.”

The most commonly floated strategy is one that rests on building transmission lines that would bring in hydroelectric power from Canada.

“More than planning, you have to build infrastructure,” said Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There are already resources up in upstate New York and Canada. It’s getting them to where all the users are.”

On the other hand, he said, “no one wants the transmission lines in their backyard.” So on whether Cuomo could build the lines before both reactors would close, Lochbaum said, “I wouldn’t bet on that.”

The plant’s supporters say it would be foolish to shut down the reactors without a program to work around their loss.

“What is the alternative?” asked Matt Nelligan, director of the state Senate’s Energy and Telecommunications Committee, whose Republican chairman, George Maziarz, supports keeping Indian Point open. “What’s the impact on electricity prices in the state? People should be concerned about that.

“New York has some of the most diverse generation assets in the country, and nuclear is a part of that mix,” Nelligan added. “It’s very hard to figure out, given the parameters here, how you would replace 2,000 megawatts of power.”

Environmentalists, though concerned about nuclear power in general, have also grown weary of the state’s lack of progress in developing a workaround for the plant.

Cuomo “really should make it a priority to develop and implement, basically, a non-Indian Point energy plan,” said Phillip Musegaas, an attorney and researcher for Riverkeeper. He said he’s seen other governors make similarly lofty promises, only to leave them incomplete.

Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit against the EPA to make it enforce a section of the Clean Water Act requiring plant operators — like those at Indian Point — to install cooling water systems that are less harmful to aquatic creatures and avoid sucking them into the plant.

The increased awareness of the hazards of nuclear power in light of the Fukushima Daiichi crisis makes this the best time for the state to leap on the issue if it is serious about closing Indian Point, Musegaas said.

“Its location, more than anything else, just cries out for somebody to address this. And now is the time to do that, whatever the outcome,” he said. “Even if they work on a plan and they come back and say, ‘We can’t do it without this plant,’ I think the public deserves an honest assessment.”

 

Current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has gladly taken the mantle and, although he’s fallen short of targeting the plant for closure, has led perhaps the most vigorous legal assault on it so far — challenging everything from the NRC’s onsite waste storage rules to Indian Point’s fire-safety provisions. 

But nobody has laid out a detailed plan to replace the lost electricity.

Although Cuomo campaigned partly on a promise to close Indian Point, his energy proposals ran thin on what would replace the plant. His “Power NY” agenda merely said repeatedly that “We must find and implement alternative sources of energy generation and transmission to replace the electricity now supplied by the Indian Point facility.”

The most commonly floated strategy is one that rests on building transmission lines that would bring in hydroelectric power from Canada.

“More than planning, you have to build infrastructure,” said Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There are already resources up in upstate New York and Canada. It’s getting them to where all the users are.”

On the other hand, he said, “no one wants the transmission lines in their backyard.” So on whether Cuomo could build the lines before both reactors would close, Lochbaum said, “I wouldn’t bet on that.”

The plant’s supporters say it would be foolish to shut down the reactors without a program to work around their loss.

“What is the alternative?” asked Matt Nelligan, director of the state Senate’s Energy and Telecommunications Committee, whose Republican chairman, George Maziarz, supports keeping Indian Point open. “What’s the impact on electricity prices in the state? People should be concerned about that.

“New York has some of the most diverse generation assets in the country, and nuclear is a part of that mix,” Nelligan added. “It’s very hard to figure out, given the parameters here, how you would replace 2,000 megawatts of power.”

Environmentalists, though concerned about nuclear power in general, have also grown weary of the state’s lack of progress in developing a workaround for the plant.

Cuomo “really should make it a priority to develop and implement, basically, a non-Indian Point energy plan,” said Phillip Musegaas, an attorney and researcher for Riverkeeper. He said he’s seen other governors make similarly lofty promises, only to leave them incomplete.

Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit against the EPA to make it enforce a section of the Clean Water Act requiring plant operators — like those at Indian Point — to install cooling water systems that are less harmful to aquatic creatures and avoid sucking them into the plant.

The increased awareness of the hazards of nuclear power in light of the Fukushima Daiichi crisis makes this the best time for the state to leap on the issue if it is serious about closing Indian Point, Musegaas said.

“Its location, more than anything else, just cries out for somebody to address this. And now is the time to do that, whatever the outcome,” he said. “Even if they work on a plan and they come back and say, ‘We can’t do it without this plant,’ I think the public deserves an honest assessment.”

Get the latest headlines sent to your inbox!
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Leave Comments
What's New
21st Century Solutions
The NBCUniversal Foundation is partnering... Read more
Follow Us
Sign up to receive news and updates that matter to you.
Send Us Your Story Tips
Check Out