WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Bloomberg Backs Indian Point Nuclear Plant
Friday, March 18, 2011
For decades people have been trying to close Indian Point.
It became the focal point of the national tug-of-war over continued reliance on the "peace time atom." It is about to become that again.
The ongoing devastation in Japan is unfolding at the same time as the last phase of Indian Point's renewal process. To the north in Vermont, a similar battle is occuring over the future of the Yankee power plant.
With the sounds of bagpipes in the background at the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he supports keeping Indian Point open.
The Mayor said that the new power lines planned from Canada and New Jersey using the renewable sources he favors, such as wind and solar, are going to take time. Bloomberg's bottom line? Indian Point is critical to the city's economic viability.
"Short term, we have to have power if we are going to grow, and Indian Point at the moment is a big part of that," he said. "All of these other alternatives are a number of years down the road."
Indian Point supplies about 25 percent of the city's power. Reactor's two and three were built in the 1970s and were slated for a 40-year-life. As in the rest of the country, plant operators are hoping to get an additional 20 years of productivity ouf ot their reactors.
Governor Andrew Cuomo opposes Indian Point's re-licensing, and he believes the state can make up for its electrical capacity if it is closed. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is in the no-license renewal camp as well.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has signed off on the scientific review with support Indian Point's renewal. Yet the plant, which sits on the Ramapo fault line and evidently near a second, newly discovered faultline, is one of 27 plants in the country under additional seismic review.
The renewal is in the public comment period, the last phase before the NRC formally acts on plant operation Entergy's application. The public hearings have yet to be scheduled.
Dick Ottinger, former congressman and Dean Emeritus at Pace Law School, says for him the decision to build Indian Point on the Ramapo Fault was a major mistake.
"From the time it was built, I felt that construction of a nuclear plant on a seismic fault at Indian Point was a serious mistake in judgment," Ottinger says.
"The tragedy in Japan confirms that opinion. While the chances of a major accident of the kind being experienced in Japan are slight, the Indian Point plant has been plagued with numerous mishaps and errors of judgment."
In the week since the Japanese nuclear tragedy started unfolding, Indian Point opponents seemed to have the edge in the media battle for American hearts and minds.
According to U.S. polling data, the disturbing images coming from Japan and the stereotypical government and industry responses set off a major erosion of popular support for the expansion of nuclear power.
With the election of a nuclear-friendly President Obama, the trauma over the Gulf oil spill, and growing concern over global warming, atomic power was looking better and better to more Americans. Fukushima has changed that.
By week's end, Indian Point boosters, beyond Entergy, were back on the offensive. They point out the Westchester plant helps employ 11,000 people and generate's $750 million dollars in economic activity.
The New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance had experts at the ready to discuss energy issues with the media. The coalition is made up of 150 members that include leading business organizations, labor unions and academics.
Advocates say that Indian Point has always been under intense scrutiny, but is arguably one of the safest nuclear plants in the United States; The plant makes the New York metropolitan region a safer place by ensuring that the grid is reliable, and it mitigates the production of toxic pollution from fossil fuel sources; the area’s electricity demands will rise in the coming years, and there is a looming energy crunch for overall shortage or new generation sources in the pipeline.
For everyone of those points there is a counter-argument. Opponents look at the same paper trail that documents Indian Point's history and see a plant that has performed poorly and has been indulged by the NRC its regulator.
So what's new in this perennial local debate?
John Armbruster, is a seismologoist with Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. Lamont-Doherty has spent more than 30 years looking at the Ramapo Fault line.
Armbruster says his focus is not just on the Ramapo faultline that runs by Indian Point but a second fault line he discovered that also runs near the plant.
"It is an alignment of earth quakes from Peekskill to the Southeast into Long Island Sound," says Armbruster.
Armbruster and his team believe that there is enough new information and research in both seismology and engineering that a fresh review is essential.
Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory team will meet today with U.S. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand's staff to discuss their concerns.
In Senator Gillibrand's previous political incarnation as an upstate member of Congress, her distict included a nuclear power plant. And while her website emphasizes a big push for green renewable energy sources, she has never opposed nuclear power.
Post-Fukushima, Gillibrand is reassuring about nuclear power.
"I want to ensure that all of our nuclear facilities everywhere in America are safe. I have called for hearings in the Senate, which Sen. [Barbara] Boxer has agreed to hold. We need to have the best oversight and accountability possible, and more information to ensure there is a plan to safeguard these facilities.”
The reality is no matter what happens in the debate over life extension for Indian Point's operation, the plant, its spent fuel rods, and the attendant risks they pose will be with us for a long, long time.