A landmark deal finalized between NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc. to close the Indian Point nuclear power station by 2020 and 2021 is making tons of headlines for good reason. The negotiated closure of the aging two-unit nuclear power station just 25 miles from New York City is the light at the end of the tunnel for a potential radiological disaster that could trap millions of people under its cloud. It also brings to closure a marathon of ten-year legal battle costing state taxpayers and ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in lawyer fees for a controversial federal 20-year relicensing and the even longer ongoing violation of the Clean Water Act where the nukes’ cooling water system has been sucking the life out of the Hudson River and then polluting it with billions of gallons of super-hot water discharge. All good, but on the other hand, Governor Cuomo just orchestrated a scandalous $8 billion bailout for four dangerous and otherwise uneconomic atomic power plants in upstate New York that indentures his constituents to skyrocketing electric rates and sets up a potential Fukushima disaster on the Great Lakes.
On the one hand, shutting down Indian Point units 2 & 3 is long overdue. Unit 1 closed in 1974. Many are not losing sight of “sooner is better.” The phase-out approach provides Entergy with an uncontested 6-year operating license renewal from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and not the 20-year license extension it originally applied for in 2007. Given an energy emergency, the State and Entergy can agree to extend operations in 2-year increments to 2024 and 2025 but not beyond. Indian Point workers get retraining and relocation into other energy facilities in the state. The State will step up its own safety oversight in the interim. Thousands of tons of nuclear waste in high-density storage underwater will get moved to more secure onsite “dry cask” storage.
On the other hand, Governor Cuomo’s atomic shellout faulter for Nine Mile Point 1 & 2, FitzPatrick and Ginna nuclear power stations forces New York residents to pay a staggering increase in electricity rates for aging nuclear power plants otherwise no longer economical to operate. Given that Governor Cuomo’s main concerns for closing Indian Point justifiably focus on the saving the Hudson River and protecting the safety of the metropolitan residents of New York City, bailing out these four reactors (three being Fukushima-style reactors) for continued operation raises some troubling questions of the State’s unequal protection under the law for its upstate New York residents and the equally precious water resources of the Great Lakes.
At the center of his argument for these particular nuclear power plants cashing in on the state’s “Zero Emission Credit” subsidies, the Governor contends that the closure and replacement of the upstate atomic reactors would mean more fossil fuel emissions that add three million tons of greenhouse gases and a public health cost of $1.4 billion. In fact, Governor Cuomo has to actually ignore the global trend that renewable energy from solar and wind is already outpacing fossil fuels in new generating capacity. Most recently, a November 2016 Stanford University and German Aerospace Center joint study even focused on “Alternative Renewable Energy Scenarios for New York” to replace these very same nuclear power stations with renewable energy. The study examined six scenarios; two nuclear and four renewable energy options. Scenario 1 modeled the subsidization of FitzPatrick, Nine Mile Point and Ginna with Zero Emissions Credits to keep them operating till 2050. Scenario 2 subsidizes the nuclear power stations to operate till 2028 then replacing them with wind and solar. Scenarios 3 through 6 shutdown the nuclear power plants as soon as possible and replace by varying combinations of renewable energy (onshore wind, utility-grade and rooftop solar). To quote the study’s conclusion, “In sum, in all cases, examined, subsidizing the three upstate nuclear reactors to stay open increases both CO2 and costs relative to the renewable scenarios.” In fact, the study concluded that keeping the nuclear power plants open increases the cost of electricity by billions of dollars and significant greater carbon emissions than switching to a mix of renewable energy.
Indeed, as reported in Crain’s New York Business, if Cuomo was to instead close the upstate reactors as soon as possible right along with Indian Point and replace them with a mix of wind and solar power, he could save New Yorkers $6.5 billion in dirty, dangerous electricity bills over 12 years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While Governor Cuomo deserves much of the credit for successfully negotiating the early closure of Indian Point, he is squandering that political capital at great expense and risk by propping up the rest of New York’s failing nuclear energy industry.