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Protecting Environments in the Courts and on the River

On April 30, 2021, Indian Point’s last reactor is scheduled to shut down, marking a new era for the Hudson River, the Hudson Valley and the New York City Metropolitan Area. Closing the plant was one of Riverkeeper’s longest and most hard-fought battles — spanning decades. This, however, does not mark the end of the Indian Point campaign, as there are immediate issues to address and even more on the horizon regarding safe decommissioning, a just transition for affected workers and communities, environmental justice, and a clean, safe energy future for New York.

In January 2017, Riverkeeper won one of its longest battles — which spanned over five decades — when it joined New York State and Entergy in a historic agreement to close the aging and dangerous Indian Point nuclear power plant by April 2021.

Indian Point Energy Center (I.P.E.C.) was initially a three-unit nuclear power plant station located in Buchanan, New York, just south of Peekskill, about 36 miles north of Midtown Manhattan.  It sits on the west bank of the Hudson River, which originally housed the Indian Point Amusement Park, but was acquired by Consolidated Edison on October 1954.  

HOW INDIAN POINT HARMS THE HUDSON RIVER

Indian Point’s antiquated once-through water cooling system kills over one billion fish and fish larvae each year. The system withdraws 2.42 billion gallons per day from the Hudson and heats it up to a deadly temperature before discharging. Fish are killed when they are impinged on filter screens, entrained through the cooling system, and scalded by hot water. Evidence indicates that over 40 years, such slaughter and habitat degradation have contributed to the decline of numerous important fish species in the River.

Also, the pools at the plant that house spent nuclear fuel have been leaking toxic, radioactive water into the ground since the 1990s, contaminating the local soil and the Hudson River.

By Paul Gallay

President, Riverkeeper

Closing Indian Point

If you’re in the market for safe, sustainable energy in New York, the Indian Point nuclear plant just isn’t for you.

The risks associated with continuing to operate Indian Point should make you more than a little relieved that this increasingly unsafe, half-century old plant will finally close, on April 30, under the landmark 2017 agreement that Riverkeeper concluded with the State of New York and plant owner, Entergy. And, when you couple how much safer we’ll be without Indian Point with the revolution in renewables and energy efficiency that the plant’s impending shutdown has helped to trigger, you’ll know that closing Indian Point is the only way to assure clean and safe energy for New York.

Too old, too unsafe, too harmful

The need to close Indian Point to protect public safety is well documented. In one 12-month period, just before the 2017 closure agreement, 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 closure, inspection results released just after the 2017 agreement was signed showed that 27% of the bolts which hold together the core of Indian Point Reactor 2, were impaired or missing and a subsequent inspection of Unit 3 revealed 31% of its bolts were also damaged — by far the worst results of any reactors worldwide.

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-Gov. George Pataki concluded that the plant’s evacuation plan would fail to protect the tens of millions who live in the region in an emergency. The NRC has consistently enabled the operator of Indian Point by looking the other way on safety issues, even permitting the plant to evade federal fire safety standards governing the electrical cables that the plant would rely upon in an emergency.

Indian Point imperils our environment in other ways, as well. Its once-through water cooling system violates the Clean Water Act and kills over a billion fish, eggs and fish larvae each year, as it withdraws up to 2 billion gallons per day in cooling water from the Hudson, which has contributed for decades to the decline of the Hudson River ecosystem. Add that to the risk of accident at Indian Point, and it’s clear why the plant needs to shut down.

The revolution in NY’s energy supply since the 2017 Indian Point Closure agreement

Since the agreement to close Indian Point was signed in 2017, New York has taken aggressive action to reduce reliance on this plant and on fossil fuel-generated power, by ramping up on renewables and energy efficiency. In fact, annual renewable generation and energy efficiency savings between 2017 and 2020 increased by 6,550 gigawatt hours statewide, more than half the output of Indian Point. This includes an increase in annual generation of roughly 430 GWh from utility-scale solar, 970 GWh from small-scale distributed solar, 450 GWh from onshore wind, and about 4,700 GWh in cumulative energy efficiency savings relative to 2016. During this same period, use of natural gas was cut by nearly 9,000 GWh, more than the entire output of Indian Point Reactor 2, which closed in 2020.

Thanks in part to the state’s groundbreaking 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), additional clean resources now in operation or under development will contribute another 20,000 GWh annually by 2024, exceeding Indian Point’s annual generation of 16,334 GWh. Beyond these impressive totals, we can count on another 4,300 MW in offshore wind capacity, through the five different offshore wind projects New York State has in active development, as well.

As to gas-fired plants currently online: Indian Point’s closure will not save them; cheaper renewables, demand reduction and the CLCPA will put them out of business. Driven by the boom in hydrofracking, which New York banned as unsafe in 2014, gas-fired power generation much of the U.S. is “significantly overbuilt” today, and the drive to reduce carbon emissions will make any future investments in new gas generation risky, according to a report published in January by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Not surprisingly, almost all new U.S. power plants built in 2021 will be carbon-free, as cheap wind and solar power, coupled with plummeting battery storage prices, take over the market.

The risks posed by continued operations at the half-century old, increasingly unsafe Indian Point nuclear plant are too well documented to ignore. And, the progress on renewables and efficiency we’ve made since the Indian Point closure agreement in 2017 means we won’t miss the power Indian Point once generated. New York will be safer, more secure and well on the way to a truly safe and sustainable energy supply, when Indian Point’s long-awaited closure takes place, on schedule, this April 30.

Riverkeeper Webinar

Indian Point closing event:

When: April 30, 2021 – 6:00pm to 7:30pm

Where: Zoom Webinar To Attend: https://www.riverkeeper.org

The Riverkeeper panel to discuss the event includes:  

•Paul Gallay, Riverkeeper President

•U.S. Representative Mondaire Jones, New York’s 17th District

•Carlos Garcia, Energy Planner, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance

•Laurie Seeman, naturalist and environmental educator, Strawtown Studio

•Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater

•Phillip Musegaas, VP, Programs and Litigation, Potomac Riverkeeper Network

•Richard Webster, Legal Program Director, Riverkeeper

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