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Friday
Dec042015

Decreasing economies of scale put pressure on remaining Entergy Nuclear merchant reactors

Entergy's Indian Point nuclear power plant, on the Hudson River near New York City.As reported by Syracuse.com, Entergy Nuclear's top executive in charge of its fleet of merchant nuclear power plants, William Mohl, has admitted that its remaining atomic reactors are under increasing pressure, due to loss of economies of scale:

"We don't have any immediate plans (to change direction) on Indian Point, but you start to have to think about what will you do down the road if you have a single asset in the Northeast,'' he said. "You just have less economies of scale. We're looking at that and what we need to do in that regard.''

Although his context was Entergy's two unit Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City, in light of Entergy's recent rapid-fire decisions to close FitzPatrick in upstate NY (as early as a year from now, but hopefully sooner), and Pilgrim in MA (in mid-2019, but hopefully sooner), the same logic applies at Entergy's age-degraded, problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor in MI as well:

Entergy is preparing to decommission three of its so-called "merchant" nuclear reactors, each of which sells power in unregulated wholesale markets in the Northeast. After the closures of Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and FitzPatrick, Entergy Wholesale Commodities will have just three merchant reactors left – two at Indian Point and one in Michigan.

(Note that Entergy also operates the Cooper atomic reactor in Nebraska, although it is owned by Nebraska Public Power District.)

Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc., in Burlington, VT, and Beyond Nuclear's expert witness in its Palisades legal intervention of the past year, pointed out at the time of the Pilgrim and FitzPatrick closure announcements, several weeks ago, that in addition to Vermont Yankee's actual closure about a year ago, the Pilgrim and FitzPatrick closure announcements hold deep significance for the loss of economies of scale for Entergy, across its dwindling reactor fleet.

This adds to the pressure for closure of Palisades, as well as Indian Point.

So too does the fact that, despite his absurd acrobatic back flips attempting to keep FitzPatrick open (as described in the article above; he is joined in that, unfortunately, by US Senator Schumer (D-NY)), NY Gov. Cuomo is, at least, strongly opposed to the 20-year license extension at Entergy's Indian Point Unit 2 & 3 nuclear power plant, precariously close to New York City. The State of New York recently denied Indian Point permission to keep dumping two-thirds of the heat it generates from splitting atoms (a massive amount of thermal pollution, something like the heat generated by the Hiroshima atomic bomb, per hour!) into the Hudson River.

What this means is, if Entergy wants to keep operating Indian Point, it would have to build cooling towers, at a cost of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. Or take other mitigative action, such as shutting down the two reactors during fish spawning season, for several long months per year (with a consequent loss of revenues during that downtime). It would probably close Indian Point before doing any such things.

And if Indian Point, under growing pressure in New York to close, does close, that would leave Palisades standing alone, as Entergy's sole merchant reactor, after FitzPatrick and Pilgrim also retire. Which means economies of scale are completely lost. One can only hope, THAT would convince Entergy to -- at long last -- close Palisades, for economic reasons alone (never mind the ever mounting public health, safety, and environmental risks!). These include the Palisades reactor pressure vessel's age-related degradation, such as neutron radiation embrittlement risks. Ironically enough, whereas Palisades has the worst embrittlement risks in the country, Indian Point Unit 3 is not far behind (see page 5 of 15 on the PDF counter in this NRC document)!

Please note that, 2.5 years ago, Dr. Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School predicted that Entergy's entire merchant fleet was at risk of near-term permanent shutdown, for a variety of reasons. He's been proven correct about Vermont Yankee, and now Pilgrim and FitzPatrick. But he also predicted that Indian Point and Palisades were at risk of near-term permanent shutdown. Let's hope, for the sake of New York and Michigan, the Hudson River and the Great Lakes, that he is correct about them, as well. And let's keep working hard to help make this happen, sooner rather than later! As the campaign slogan of Michigan Safe Energy Future puts it, "Shutdown Before Meltdown!"