The Local Politics of Closing Nuclear Power Plants

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While nuclear power has enjoyed a resurgence of bipartisan support in Washington — like in this 2009 op-ed from Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) — the local politics around nuclear energy have remained charged. In both New Jersey and New York, leaders have been looking for exit plans for their decades-old nuclear plants.

New Jersey's Oyster Creek Plant

After a long and political fight in New Jersey, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a 20-year operating license for Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in April 2009. Just as then-Governor Jon Corzine was leaving office later that year, he signed off on a plan to require the installation of cooling towers at the plant, a demand of environmentalists worried about the plant’s impact on surrounding waterways. As he prepared to take office, Chris Christie accused Corzine of “last-minute politics” by waiting until just before leaving office.

The state’s position changed when Christie took office. The Christie administration brokered a deal with Excelon Corp, who runs the plant. No expensive cooling towers would be required, but the plant would close ten years into its 20-year license, no later than December 19, 2019.

At the time, Christie touted the agreement as a conservation victory for nearby Barnegut Bay.

"Barnegat Bay is one of my top environmental priorities. After years of inaction and the Bay's declining ecological health, we finally have a comprehensive plan that will prevent further degradation of the Bay and begin the restoration of this incredible New Jersey resource,” Christie said in a press release.

New York's Indian Point Plant

In New York, the upcoming license renewal fight was a campaign issue for both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

In his Power NY energy position paper, then-candidate Andrew Cuomo reasserted his long-time criticism of the nuclear facility. “We must find and implement alternative sources of energy generation and transmission to replace the electricity now supplied by the Indian Point facility,” it read.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was even more strident on the campaign trail. “"It is simply irresponsible to permit the re-licensing of a dangerous, obsolete nuclear plant with a long history of safety violations and no viable escape route in the event of an accident or terrorist attack,” he said in a campaign press release.

The operating permits for Indian Point's two reactors are up for renewal from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2013 and 2015 respectively.