Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant--
Facing Political Challenges in its Re licensing Bid
December 3, 2007—Local and state politicians in early December ganged up on Entergy’s New York Indian Point power plant—a 2,000 megawatt facility situated on the Hudson River about 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan. The facility’s two units are up for re licensing in 2013 and 2015 and Entergy faces organized opposition concerned about operational safety and terrorist threats.
Leading that opposition is New York Governor Eliot Spitzer who has repeatedly said that as soon as there is “sufficient replacement power available” the facility should be closed. Joining the chorus for closure is NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who emphasizes the danger to the 20 million people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut who live or work within 50 miles of the plant. Cuomo has emphasized the plant’s vulnerability to terrorist attack, its inability to withstand earthquakes, and the lack of a plausible evacuation plan.
Of course operating safety, as well as safety from terrorism, trumps all when considering day-to-day operation and licensing of any nuclear facility.
On a recent, escorted visit to Indian Point, however, security at the facility was impressive. Getting through the private Entergy security force, the state police and the National Guard surrounding the facility was not an insignificant task. Then again there is the threat from the skies—a reality that exists for any nuclear facility in the world.
Nuclear containment domes, like the ones at Indian Point, have tremendous mass as they are built with reinforced concrete that are as thick as ten feet at the base and taper to two feet at the top of the dome. Airplanes, on the other hand, to be as fuel efficient as possible, are built as light as possible, i.e., with little mass.
The Nuclear Energy Institute sponsored simulations performed by the Electric Power Research Institute that were peer reviewed that suggest that nuclear containment vessels would withstand a direct hit by a large commercial jet such as the Boeing 767. See NEI. (Deterring Terrorism: Aircraft Crash Impact Analyses Demonstrate Nuclear Power Plant's Structural Strength: EPRI Study) On YouTube.com film clips show the result of a F4 Phantom jet crashing into a concrete wall similar to what is found in a containment dome structure. The concrete wall survives…the plane is obliterated.
An Economic Multiplier
Acknowledging Entergy's view that the operational and terrorist issues can be safely and effectively managed going forward, from an economic point of view, Indian Point is a valuable regional asset. The plant employs 1,200 people and profitably generates clean electricity—reportedly $500 million a year for Entergy. With so little manufacturing being conducted downstate, the power plant represents an economic gem. Salaries of the employees, like the high salaries of any value-added manufacturing facility, recycle through the surrounding communities many times. Closing the facility would not only rob the metropolitan area of competitively-priced electricity, it would also place more than 1,000 on unemployment, and unplug one of the region’s largest economic engines.
Entergy says the uranium comes from North America so the plant does not contribute to the outflow of dollars overseas. If the fuel costs go abroad, it goes to Canada the largest trading partner of the U.S. Our continuing war in Iraq and the country’s imported fuel bill are two large contributing factors that are undermining the purchasing power of every American. How weak is the American dollar now against the Euro?
We don’t need the power?
New York politicos have also said we don’t need the Indian Point power as 5,000 megawatts of wind power is being developed upstate. In addition to local nuclear opposition, there is also plenty of opposition to wind power development upstate, just investigate what is happening around Cooperstown.
Besides the proposed wind, because much of the electrical generation in New York State is located in the north and west of the state, building new transmission lines transmission to the heavily populated southeastern New York area will be necessary, problematic and expensive. One proposed $1 billion transmission line will bring power from Oneida County to the town of New Windsor in Orange County, a distance of approximately 200 miles. See T&D.
Imagine the NIMBY opposition that will develop when proposals for transmission lines from upstate to the metropolitan region surface at local town board meetings.
Renewables: A great solution to part of the problem
Although a proponent of renewable technologies—solar panels make me energy independent nearly 80% of the year at one of my homes—they represent a great solution to only part of the problem. Today, they do not resolve our base load demands. Wind power has a much lower capacity factor, (it produces power only a fraction of the time a nuclear facility does) and it is not dispatchable, i.e., not always available when we need it—like on the hot, hazy and humid days of summer when there is no wind. It is also much more expensive. Taxes already undermine the lifestyle of many Westchester residents and businesses; we don’t need much higher energy bills to speed the emigration of retired pensioners and companies from the area.
Pick Your Poison
The only plausible alternative to nuclear base load power is coal—a technological approach that emits millions of tons of CO2 each year. And despite what various politicians said for the television cameras at the Governors and Attorney General's December 3rd press briefing—clean coal technologies don’t eliminate CO2 emissions. Where will we site 2,000 megawatts of coal to replace the power generated by Indian Point?
Nuclear power produces radioactive waste, which can either be reprocessed (like it is done in Europe and Canada, but not yet in this country) or stored in long term repositories like Yucca Mountain. How much each year? …less than a railroad carload of waste every two years per reactor. Only political will, or lack there of, keeps Yucca Mountain closed. Our society may very well choke on green house gas emissions before the lawyers and politicians resolve that issue.
Natural gas presents another option for replacing downstate generation of electricity from nuclear power. Despite the greenhouse gas emissions, it is a great solution when prices are low at $2 per million Btu (MMBtu). When prices spike higher to above $14 as it did in the wake of hurricane Katrina, it is decidedly unattractive. According to the Energy Information Agency, the Henry Hub spot price averaged $7.04 per MMBtu as of December 5, 2007. Building 2000 megawatts of natural gas power would not only place tremendous pressure on existing supplies for power generation, but likely also raise prices for many of the region’s homeowners and small businesses who heat their homes and offices with natural gas.
No easy solutions
It is easy to lament the fact that Indian Point nuclear power plant exists today. When sited 40 years ago, population density was not what it is today, but shutting it down without serious discussion of the alternatives and economic and environmental implications of doing so does not represent sound energy policy.
Who will be the first to complain when there is no power for air conditioning? How many will complain with the absence of nuclear power that electricity prices are too high? What kind of power will fuel the region’s future economic growth? What companies will replace the ones that leave because high energy prices and high local taxes makes the region increasingly uncompetitive and unattractive.
Adopting conservation and renewable technologies together with the safe operation of existing base load power plants, including our local nuclear plants, represent the most economic and environmentally conscious way forward. That shouldn’t be cast aside by hysteria or politics.
Chris Gadomski, a member of the United States Energy Association, teaches courses on Energy and the Environment and Energy Policy at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Masters in Global Affairs Program. See: http://www.smidirect.net/nyu