New York stepping into nuclear plant dismantling project

State’s attorney general files petition to potentially intervene in current Nuclear Regulatory Commission project oversight.

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February 13, 2020

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has filed a petition to intervene in the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) process overseeing the decommissioning of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, New York, 35 miles north of New York City. That plant has been scheduled to stop producing power in 2021.

In a news release announcing the petition filing, James refers to concerns about “the transfer of Indian Point to subsidiaries of the nuclear services firm Holtec International,” a Florida-based firm that has been selected by the utility company that owns Indian Point to oversee the decommissioning.

In the news release, the attorney general also “expresses serious concerns” that Holtec fails to “possess the financial qualifications necessary to complete such a risk-intensive project.”

States James, “It is essential that the decommissioning of Indian Point be safe, rapid, and complete. Putting the decommissioning of Indian Point in the hands of a company with no experience and uncertain financial resources is very risky. I am committed to ensuring that New York is granted full participation in this application proceeding and all other decision-making related to Indian Point’s decommissioning.”

New Orleans-based Entergy, the owner of the nuclear plant, agreed in 2017 to close the two remaining operating units at the site, according to James. On January 23, 2020, the NRC announced it was considering approval of an application by Entergy to transfer Indian Point’s license to Holtec so it could be responsible for decommissioning.

The radiological clean-up and dismantling of the facility “is extremely demanding both technically and financially,” says the attorney general’s office. NRC requires nuclear facilities to establish and maintain a trust fund to pay for decommissioning, with the Indian Point fund having been funded by New York ratepayers through their electricity bills. “The Holtec entities propose to seek NRC approval to use the trust not only to conduct decommissioning, but also to fund site restoration and spent fuel management activities,” says James.

In January 2020, Holtec published a cost estimate for decommissioning, site restoration, and spent fuel management at the IP facility of $2.3 billion. However, Holtec represents that the value of the Indian Point trust fund as of October 2019 was “approximately $2.1 billion” – which James says signifies a $200 million shortfall in funding.

In the petition, James says she “expresses a number of substantial concerns about Holtec’s financial qualifications,” and she says Holtec’s cost estimates for decommissioning rely on “a series of unreasonable assumptions” that appear to underestimate those costs.

In mid-January 2020, Attorney General James says she also “led a coalition of 12 states in supporting Massachusetts’s challenge to the NRC’s approval for the transfer of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s license to Holtec without affording Massachusetts a hearing to address its significant concerns about Holtec’s ability to successfully oversee that facility’s decommissioning.”

“I have long called for the decommissioning of Indian Point, and while I am pleased that day is finally drawing near, we must be sure it is done in the safest way possible,” remarks U.S. Representative Eliot Engel. “I applaud Attorney General James for taking action to ensure this process is done in a thoughtful manner with the greatest possible care.”

“The health and safety of Hudson Valley families relies on the safe dismantling of Indian Point. We cannot afford - and will not tolerate - mistakes,” states U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney. “I fully support Attorney General James’ petition to intervene with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceedings, and continue to call on the Commission to hold a public hearing before transferring the license to Holtec.”

Engel and Maloney are two of eight elected officials who offer comments in the press release announcing the filing of the petition.

At a January 2020 public hearing in Buchanan, an Ossining, New York-based advocacy group called RiverKeeper contended that Holtec was new to the nuclear power plant decommissioning sector.

“Holtec has never decommissioned a nuclear facility before, and its entire nuclear ‘fleet’ was acquired less than a year ago,” the group contends. “We’re only asking that Entergy select a qualified company to take on this arduous tasks of decommissioning, site cleanup and management of spent radioactive fuel, while keeping 20 million New Yorkers safe,” adds RiverKeeper.