Despite what pro-Indian Point interests claim, it’s a false dichotomy to say that New York’s only energy choices are between Indian Point, a dangerous old nuclear plant, and power from fracked gas. Neither is a good choice, nor are they the only choice for New York. Instead, we must continue the transition from dirty power to clean renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. The terrible COVID-19 epidemic shows that unlikely catastrophic events occur if we wait long enough and do not take proactive measures to reduce the risks of such events. The closure of Indian Point is one such measure to reduce risk to New Yorkers.
Our energy transition is already underway, as shown by a recent study by PSE Healthy Energy, which found that since Indian Point’s closure was announced, annual renewable generation and energy efficiency savings have increased roughly 6,550 GWh statewide, equivalent to the energy generated by the reactor that will shut down this week.. Clean sources now in operation or under development will contribute some 20,000 GWh annually by 2024, exceeding Indian Point’s total annual generation of 16,334 GWh. By 2025, New York’s landmark 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is poised to drive an additional 23,600 GWh in solar energy and efficiency savings.
Put together, that’s enough green power and demand reduction to close Indian Point more than 2.5 times over. And, that’s before we add another 1,700 MW in offshore wind capacity, which the state contracted for in 2019. The drive for renewables also got yet another boost from measures to streamline siting processes and regulations that will close dirty peaking plants.
The risks of Indian Point are real, as shown by the12-month period preceding the 2017 closure agreement, when Indian Point suffered seven major malfunctions — pump and power failures, a transformer explosion, radiation leaks, a fire and an oil spill. Then, as if to put an exclamation point on the case for closing Indian Point, inspection results released just after the closure agreement was announced showed that over 30 percent of the bolts holding the plant’s two operating reactor cores together had become impaired, by far the worst result of any such tests at any reactor, worldwide.
Furthermore, a 2011 Nuclear Regulatory Commission study rated Indian Point number one for risk of meltdown due to earthquake, and a 2003 study commissioned by then-New York State Governor George Pataki concluded that the plant’s evacuation plan would fail to protect the public in an actual emergency. Most recently, the NRC’s Office of Inspector General showed that safety evaluation for the siting of a high pressure gas pipeline close to Indian Point was riddled with flaws.
Finally, at this point, the closure of Indian Point is a settled matter both legally and practically. Entergy, the plant’s owner, is already in the process of shutting down the plant, pursuant to the terms of the 2017 agreement it signed to do so. Not only has Entergy begun to shut Indian Point down, it’s also in contract to sell the plant and transfer all its licenses to a new owner, solely for the purpose of decommissioning the site.
Let’s learn from the COVID-19 crisis. We need to take measures to reduce potentially catastrophic risks as quickly as possible. Closing Indian Point will greatly reduce the risk of a nuclear accident, while the transition to renewable power will reduce the risk of climate change and improve air quality.
We don’t have to choose between staying in the frying pan or jumping into the fire. Instead, we are closing Indian Point while reducing reliance on fracked gas with the transition to renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage.
Richard Webster is Riverkeeper’s Legal Program Director