Pulse of the Peninsula: Demand to shut down Indian Point should fuel support for clean energy revolution

Pulse of the Peninsula: Demand to shut down Indian Point should fuel support for clean energy revolution

On June 16, Friends of the Earth and other environmental organizations took the rare step of filing an emergency petition with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to compel the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to prevent Entergy from restarting its aging Indian Point nuclear reactor which was found to have unprecedented parts failure in its critical core cooling system. Entergy, the owner and operator of Indian Point, repeatedly stated  that the deterioration of the bolts posed no danger to the public.  It went ahead with restarting the reactor despite the pending court case and without conducting a root cause analysis of the problem, or a full safety assessment, as elected officials and citizen’s groups had been demanding.

But that was before the latest weld leak that resulted in another “unplanned shutdown” of the Indian Point 2 reactor — Indian Point’s eighth emergency shutdown in the past year — prompting Governor Cuomo to call, yet again, for Indian Point to close permanently.

“The unexpected shutdown of the reactor at Indian Point 2 because of a weld leak is just the latest example of the repeated and continuing problems at the plant. In the last year alone, there has been unprecedented degradation of Indian Point Unit 2 baffle-former bolts, groundwater contamination, and increased NRC oversight at Unit 3 due to numerous unplanned shutdowns.

This is yet another sign that the aging and wearing away of important components at the facility are having a direct and unacceptable impact on safety, and is further proof that the plant is not a reliable generation resource.”

Indian Point continues to run despite the fact its operating licenses expired in 2013 and 2015, so it’s effectively operating without a license.  It’s in a kind of regulatory limbo where it can operate provisionally while the NRC considers Entergy’s request to extend its operating licenses another 20 years. But that would be 20 years beyond the designed lifetime of the plant, which is already riddled with problems and failures.  

Keep in mind that Great Neck is within the 50-mile “peak injury zone” the NRC says could result from a serious release of radioactivity from the plant.

And this latest incident comes at a time when – finally!  BOEM (the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) is about to choose a lease-holder to develop offshore wind farm off Rockaway. BOEM held hearings in New York City on June 29, which is  the first step in evaluating the ocean parcel and developing a construction plan.

Clearly our society, our economy is at a crossroads. We can choose to develop offshore wind in an area of the United States that is considered the best for in the world, or throw more money into fossil-fuel powered electricity generating plants on Long Island, and continue to put taxpayer money and residents at risk continuing to allow the Indian Point nuclear power plant to operate. (While some people consider nuclear energy “clean” because it theoretically does not emit carbon in generating electricity, it is anything but clean – in the extraction of the fuel, delivery, processing, and in the waste that it leaves behind. Nor is it renewable. And nuclear flies in the face of an equally important aspect of the Clean Energy Revolution: that it is decentralized, less dependent upon large quasi-monopolistic utility companies.)

I just got back from Vermont where you see scores of solar farms and windmills dotting the countryside; Cape Cod where there has been wind turbines operating for years. It is entirely possible to transition completely to renewable, but for now, we should be making these transitions step by step – just as California, where Pacific Gas and Electric Co. plans to replace its Diablo Canyon nuclear plant’s generating capacity by “a cost-effective, greenhouse gas free portfolio of energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage.” (That’s PSEG, as in the company that is now Long Island’s electric company.)

In contrast, Entergy, the company that owns Indian Point, refuses to shut it down, probably because it has little financial incentive to do so because taxpayers would be on the hook if there is any catastrophe.

Indeed, despite the series of breakdowns, the fact that Indian Point reactors have been leaking contaminated water into the Hudson River and raising temperatures that jeopardize spawning fish, the judge ruled that the court is not in a position to second-guess the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

What is not understandable is why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows Indian Point to continue operating years after its licenses have expired.

“Just as the Space Shuttle Challenger was brought down by a seemingly minor faulty O-ring, Indian Point is in danger from untimely degradation and damage to key bolts. Located a mere 26 miles from New York City, a radiation release at Indian Point could reach Times Square in as little as 90 minutes in the right weather conditions, making evacuation of New York City impossible. The Indian Point reactors’ licenses expired in 2013 and 2015, respectively, and the plant is operating beyond its 40-year life span while the NRC considers whether to extend the license for an additional 20 years,” writes Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth, who spearheaded the US Court of Appeals filing.

“This is a matter of common sense denied: if a machine breaks, you have to figure out what is wrong and then fix it,” Moglen said.  “Instead, at Indian Point, Entergy has decided that the priority is to get the damaged reactor up and running by summer to protect their profits. And the NRC is acting like a lap dog and not the watch dog assuring that the reactors are safe to operate. It has been repeatedly suggested that the NRC is a ‘captured’ agency, captive of the very industry they are directed by Congress to regulate. This is a disgraceful and shocking example of that corporate capture.”

“In my day, the NRC was a real, independent regulator,” said Dave Freeman, who was the head of the New York Power Authority in the mid-1990s, which operated the Indian Point nuclear reactors at that time. “Now the agency seems primarily concerned with facilitating rather than regulating the nuclear industry. ” (“In my day” refers to the time before private, for-profit corporations not accountable to the government or people, bought and ran these plants, and made taxpayers on the hook for indemnity.)

Indeed, what is happening at Indian Point is part and parcel of the bigger issue: for the past 150 years, the infrastructure of our economy, indeed our entire society, has been based on dirty fuels and a dependency on utility companies (going back to Thomas Edison and William Barstow who dominated the utility companies. They still hold power to obstruct the transition from dirty fuels that can be seen to blight the environment, cause the extinction of half the world’s species, making vast portions of the earth uninhabitable and condemning millions to a life of sickness or premature death. Just this month we are seeing horrific wildfires in California, fatal flooding in West Virginia, and record heat in between.

You have to wonder about a company like Entergy’s ability to keep Indian Point operating and it comes back to some of the themes of this Presidential Election having to do with “political revolution.”

In that vein, on July 24, just before the Democratic National Convention gets underway in Philadelphia, thousands of people will take part in a March for a Clean Energy Revolution, and demand a transition from dirty energy to renewable power (nuclear may not emit global-warming causing carbon, but it is still a dirty, nonrenewable fuel). 

The objectives are these: Ban Fracking Now. Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground. Stop Dirty Energy. Environmental Justice For All. Quickly and Justly Transition to 100% Renewable Energy.

“Here in New York, we banned fracking, halted the Port Ambrose liquefied natural gas facility, and stopped the Constitution and NED pipelines. But we continue to face an onslaught of pipelines, storage facilities and power plants. Even as we maintain our commitment to stopping these projects, we must come together to demand a national energy policy that doesn’t endanger our communities or planet,” writes Eric Weltman, Senior Organizer, Food & Water Watch, which is participating in the march. 

This notion of an economy and society transitioned to clean, renewable energy is no longer pie-in-the-sky: the cost in money and public health of extracting dirty fuels like coal and oil and natural gas are going up while technological innovation and market acceptance are bringing down the cost and accessibility of clean renewables.

Indeed, after his meeting with the presidents of Canada and Mexico, President Obama declared, “Ten years from now, North America we will get half of our energy from clean energy sources.”

That is, if a Democrat is in the White House. 

There will be buses from our area to get people to the march. To sign up and find out about transportation, go to www.cleanenergymarch.org.

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