When a nuclear plant closes

May 25, 2020, 9:02AMNuclear News

Theresa Knickerbocker, the mayor of the village of Buchanan, N.Y., where the Indian Point nuclear power plant is located, is not happy. What has gotten Ms. Knickerbocker’s ire up is the fact that Indian Point’s Unit 2 was closed on April 30, and Unit 3 is scheduled to close in 2021. The village, population 2,300, is about 1.3 square miles total, with the Indian Point site comprising 240 acres along the Hudson River, 30 miles upstream of Manhattan. Unit 2 was a 1,028-MWe pressurized water reactor; Unit 3 is a 1,041-MWe PWR.

The nuclear plant provides the revenue for half of Buchanan’s annual $6-million budget, Knickerbocker told Nuclear News. That’s $3 million in tax revenues each year that eventually will go away. How will that revenue be replaced? Where will the replacement power come from?

Buchanan, N.Y., home to the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Image: Google Maps

The second question is the easy one to answer, according to Knickerbocker, who has been the mayor of Buchanan since 2014. Although the state of New York plans to get 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, for now and the immediate future the power to replace Indian Point will come from gas-fired plants: the CPV Valley plant in Orange County, N.Y.; the Cricket Valley plant in Dutchess County, N.Y.; the Bayonne Energy Center in New Jersey; and when demand is high, a pair of old peaker plants in New York City. Replacing clean energy with fossil fuel is why, among other reasons, Knickerbocker and citizens groups in the area—including the Climate Coalition, Nuclear New York, Protect Orange County, and Stop Cricket Valley—have strived to keep Indian Point open.

On April 22—the 50th anniversary of Earth Day—the Climate Coalition submitted a petition with more than 7,000 signatures to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, calling for the continued operation of Indian Point. “You are arbitrarily wasting an asset worth tens of billions of dollars, shutting off 80 percent of New York’s clean energy, and adding more polluting energy and carbon emissions to boot,” stated the petition, which went unanswered by the governor’s office. Indian Point was the only nuclear plant in New York to be excluded from the state’s clean energy standard, and Cuomo was opposed to its relicensing over perceived safety concerns.

Pramilla Malick, of Protect Orange County, said that the CPV Valley gas-fired plant was built specifically to replace the nuclear plant. “Closing Indian Point and replacing it with gas is in conflict with the state’s climate goal,” Malick told NN.

Knickerbocker and others have questioned the logic of closing the nuclear plant ever since its fate was decided by the state in 2017 in what some say was a political deal to boost natural gas. Those making that claim include Malick and Dietmar Detering, of Nuclear New York. “Of course, everything about Indian Point’s closure is political,” Detering said. “This is particularly upsetting at a time when we demand our political leaders to act based on evidence, not on the misguided campaigns of special interest groups. Indian Point has provided clean electricity to New York City for nearly half a century with zero casualties or major accidents.”

Knickerbocker said that when she asked in 2017 what the state’s plan was for the village of Buchanan and the surrounding area after a valuable asset like Indian Point was shut down, she was met with a stunning silence. “You could hear the sound of crickets,” she said. “The only plan was to close this plant. They were not looking at any of the repercussions and the ripple effect on the community.”

Disappearing will be 1,000 well-paying jobs at the plant, Knickerbocker noted, and the negative impact will flow down to the local businesses that, like the nuclear plant, support the community. She said that she had talked with the mayor of Zion, Ill., whose nuclear plant closed in 1998. The stories she was told about what happened when the plant closed were horrible, she said. “How high their property taxes were raised, how store fronts were shuttered, and the economic downturn was terrible.”

She has only good things to say about the plant’s owner, Entergy. “I will give Entergy a lot of credit,” she said. “They are a very generous company. Not only did they pay the taxes, but they are very philanthropic.” She cited their charitable donations to organizations such as Guiding Eyes for the Blind and community events such as the annual Jack-O-Lantern Festival.

In addition to being village mayor, Knickerbocker is a businesswoman, which she says has given her insight into how politics is sometimes played. “I think it’s important that more business people get involved in politics, because they can look at both sides of a situation and say, ‘Gee, that might not work out.’ But when you get attorneys and politicians involved, they have an agenda, and it’s damn the torpedoes.”

Although in the case of Indian Point the state had the final say, Knickerbocker said that it is important for people in communities that are home to nuclear plants to take action. “If you want your nuclear power plant, you have to join together,” she said. “You really have to speak up.”—Rick Michal, Editor-in-Chief

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