Countdown to Shutdown: Environmental, safety concerns swirl over Indian Point closure
Indian Point nuclear power plant is set to shut down in less than two years, causing major economic and environmental concerns in the surrounding community.
The Buchanan-based plant pumps out a quarter of the electricity powering both Westchester County and New York City, which it’s done for nearly six decades.
Entergy, the plant’s current owner and a major employer, pays millions in taxes every year, but the cash flow is coming to an end in 2021.
"No new families are going to move here,” says Courtney Williams, who is raising her family in Peekskill. “No new businesses are going to want to open here if that plant is not shut right. The overwhelming sentiment in the community is uncertainty."
Williams co-founded Safe Energy Rights Group – a group of community members pushing for safety measures as the retired reactors are dismantled. Their biggest concern is how nearly six decades of spent nuclear fuel will be stored.
“We want to make sure our neighbors are protected and that we are protected,” she said.
News 12 was granted exclusive access to tour Indian Point. Entergy spokesperson Jerry Nappi showed where dry casks, which contain spent fuel used at the plant, are stored on site. The nuclear waste will likely remain in Buchanan for decades after the closure because there is nowhere to send it.
"This is the industry solution to solve the problem of the federal government not picking up the fuel,” Nappi said.
The plant has a storied past of facing a large amount of scrutiny. It includes transformer fires, radioactive leaks and fuel spills, which led to the community to call for the energy giant to shut down. In 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement that Indian Point would close.
Nappi says nuclear power plants in the Northeast are simply no longer profitable.
"The decision to shut down was based on economics,” he said.
That decision is causing new concerns as New Jersey-based Holtec International has made an agreement with Entergy to buy the plant and use it’s $2 billion decommissioning fund to store spent fuel on site and dismantle the plant. The sale is subject to the approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and won’t be final until the plant is fully shut down.
“That gives the new company a vested financial interest in doing the decommissioning process as quickly and as cheaply as possible so they can pocket what is left of that decommissioning fund,” Williams says.
After the sale agreement announcement, Holtec officials released a statement but declined to comment further for this story.
“Holtec will execute the decommissioning of Indian Point with the same culture of excellence that has undergirded our company’s ascent to a first-tier nuclear technology firm,” said Dr. Kris Singh, president & CEO of Holtec International. “Our industry-leading expertise and deep experience permit us to complete decommissioning at Indian Point decades sooner than if Entergy remained the owner and performed decommissioning itself.”
As the countdown to shutdown draws closer, homeowners like Williams are standing by their demands.
"I need to know for myself that if the worst-case scenario happens that I’ve done everything in my power to protect my children and protect my community,” she says.