Column: The battle of Indian Point

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has worked to shut down the Indian Point nuclear plant.

“It is a huge step forward in protecting the health and safety of all New Yorkers.”

So said State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-SagHarbor) on the agreement to close the Indian Point nuclear power plants, which sit 30 miles from Times Square, less than 50 miles from western Suffolk and 84 miles from Shelter Island — as the crow flies and radioactivity spreads.

These aged, problem-plagued nuclear plants have constituted a huge danger for the most densely populated area of the United States.

“This closure will put New York State on the fast track to expanding its renewable energy portfolio,” Mr. Thiele said. “By shifting our focus to green, renewable energy, we can grow our economy, create jobs and safeguard the health and safety of residents and state’s natural resources for generations to come.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo has long been calling for the plants to be shut down, and in announcing the agreement on January 9, he called the two-reactor Indian Point facility a “ticking time bomb.” Under the agreement, Indian Point 2 will close by April 2020 and Indian Point 3 by April 2021.

For decades, environmentalists and safe-energy organizations have been active in working to shut down the plants. Riverkeeper, the environmental organization, has been deeply involved. Its president, Paul Gallay, along with top New York State officials led by the governor, signed the agreement with the nuclear plants’ owner, New Orleans-based Entergy.

After the signing, Mr. Gallay described Indian Point as the “biggest existential threat to the region.” These strong words were confirmed years ago by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in an analysis of the consequences of a meltdown with breach of containment (a “China Syndrome” accident) at every nuclear power plant in the U.S.

The 1982 report, “Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences” or CRAC2 (it’s available on-line), considers “peak early fatalities,” “peak early injuries,” “peak cancer deaths” and “scaled cost billions in 1980 dollars.”

For Indian Point 2, the analysis, done at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories, projects peak early fatalities — 46,000; peak early injuries — 141,000; peak cancer deaths — 13,000; and scaled cost in billions — $274 billion, which in today’s dollars would be $1 trillion. For Indian Point 3,  it calculates peak early fatalities — 50,000; peak early injuries — 167,000;  peak cancer deaths — 14,000; scaled cost in billions — $314 billion. “Scaled cost” includes “lost wages, relocation expenses, decontamination costs, lost property” and a portion of the U.S. rendered uninhabitable for centuries because of radioactivity.

These aren’t just numbers, but represent people’s lives lost, injuries, those left with cancer and part of the planet ruined.
Said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., vice chairman of Riverkeeper: “The agreement marks a milestone in America’s historic transition from a dirty, dangerous energy system to clean, safe, wholesome, local and patriotic power supply.”

New York State and the environmental and safe-energy groups won the battle of Indian Point by using a similar tactic we on Long Island used to prevent the Shoreham nuclear power plant from going into commercial operation, and to prevent the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) from building seven to 11 nuclear plants here. The strategy involved getting around federal “pre-emptions” on nuclear power.

The promoters of nuclear power arranged in the 1950s for a supportive federal government to have “pre-emption” over states and localities on most nuclear plant issues. On Long Island, a strategy of grassroots activists with support of elected officials was to use the state’s power of eminent domain. The Long Island Power Act was enacted in 1985 giving the state the authority, if LILCO persisted with Shoreham and its other nuclear plant projects, to seize its assets and eliminate it. There was no federal “pre-emption” preventing that. And LILCO gave up.

On Indian Point, environmental activists and the state zeroed in on denying Entergy the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit that allowed the plants to discharge 2.5 billion gallons of water a day into the Hudson. This “once-through” cooling system released radioactive poisons into the river and has been killing massive amounts of fish. There was no federal “pre-emption” preventing this SPDES strategy. Another important factor causing Entergy to give up is that competitive power systems are now less expensive than nuclear, including renewable energy with safe solar and offshore wind power playing a huge role.

There are post-agreement complaints by some about replacing the electricity Indian Point generated. That’s baloney. There are alternatives. We can easily have energy we can live with.