John Farley, MetroFocus
Indian Point Energy Center, the nuclear power plant located just 24 miles north of New York City, is the subject of an increasingly heated debate. The plant's critics say it's unsafe for a host of reasons, including its vulnerability to terrorist attacks and proximity to two earthquake faults. Its supporters, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, say Indian Point is safe and supplies 30 percent of New York City's energy needs. Citing a report this summer commission by the Bloomberg administration, supporters say that energy alternatives to the plant's zero-emissions nuclear power are not nearly as eco-friendly or affordable.But on Oct. 17, the National Resources Defense Council and Riverkeeper, a clean water advocacy group, released a joint report stating that in fact there are multiple clean, cost-effective energy alternatives to Indian Point Energy Center. Within two weeks, the governor's office is expected to release a request for proposals to energy companies offering alternatives to Indian Point, according to the organizations.
"This is the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the country and it has the worst safety standards of any nuclear power plant in the country," Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an attorney for both organizations, said of Indian Point.
The new report says that by 2015, New York State can provide at least four options to replace the energy currently supplied by Indian Point. Several of these energy alternatives are already being created, and the Natural Resources Defense Council and Riverkeeper say the changes would result in minimal monthly increases of $1-$5 on consumer energy bills. The alternatives include:
On-shore and off-shore wind energy turbines, as well as new solar panels. Several wind and solar projects are already planned.
A new transmission line, which would increase the capacity of energy that can be sent from upstate New York to New York City. Several other power lines are already in the works.
New pipelines to increase the amount of natural gas that can be shipped to New York City. Although New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is an advocate of the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracking, Natural Resources Defense Council President Francis Beinecke said that the natural gas would come from traditional sources located upstate and would not require fracking.
Making improvements to existing, yet outdated natural gas plants in New York City. The report claims these plants can easily be made cleaner and more energy efficient.
According to Kennedy, Cuomo's office expects strong interest from many energy companies hoping to capitalize on an eventual shutdown of Indian Point. While replacements would create new jobs, it's unclear whether they would replace the 1,000-plus jobs currently supplied by Indian Point.
While the debate surrounding Indian Point has raged for years, the time to make a decision about whether to close it is quickly approaching.
The licenses for Indian Point's two nuclear reactors are scheduled to expire in 2013 and 2015. Entergy Corporation, the Lousiana-based owner of Indian Point, has long hoped to get the licenses renewed. However, Indian Point, the oldest operational nuclear power plant in the country, has found itself at the center of a storm of controversy over the past two years.
In 2009, Indian Point was temporarily shut down and was forced to release 600,000 gallons of radioactive water as steam over the Hudson Valley, reported the New York Daily News. In another recent incident, an electric transformer exploded, and on several occasions the plant has caused surrounding water in the Hudson River to heat up by as much as 15 degrees, reported Reuters.
On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists flew a plane dangerously close to Indian Point, causing many to observe how vulnerable the plant is to terrorist attacks.
When he took office in January, 2010, Cuomo vowed to close Indian Point, claiming the risk of keeping the aging power plant in operation heavily outweighed the reward, reported Reuters.
After an earthquake, and subsequent tsunami, caused a disastrous meltdown at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant last spring, many New Yorkers began to see the nuclear plant in their own backyard as an ominous symbol. A 2008 Columbia University study revealed that Indian Point sits near the intersection of two fault lines — a fact that wasn't known when the facility was built in 1962 — but most assumed a significant earthquake happening in New York was extremely unlikely. Then, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake originating in Virginia rattled buildings across New York City this August, reported the New York Times.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, responsible for ensuring Indian Point is operating safely, says that Indian Point is seismically sound, and can safely operate for another 20 years — the length of time Indian Points's reactors would be given to operate if their licenses are renewed. Although the Commission believes the chance of an earthquake powerful enough to damage Indian Point's reactors is wildly improbable, it is currently conducting a deep investigation into the risk, reported Reuters. The results of their investigation may not be released until Indian Point's reactor licenses expire, though.
A spokesperson for Indian Point told Reuters that the plant can withstand a 6.1 magnitude earthquake, far more powerful than any seismic activity ever seen in the state.
It's true that past accidents at Indian Point have prompted considerable concern, and the new report indicates that replacements to nuclear power are quite viable. New Yorkers — and the operators of Indian Point — will have to wait and see what come of the governor's plan to gather proposals from suppliers of alternative energy.