An age of nuclear power may be winding down, but the age of nuclear waste has just begun.
That was the opening message, from Gordon Edwards, at a conference in Garrison on June 9 to discuss the decommissioning of Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan. The nuclear plant is expected to close by 2021 as part of a legal settlement between the plant’s owner and operator, Entergy Corp., and the state government.
Edwards is president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. He and a group of about a dozen nuclear experts and environmental advocates gathered at the recent forum to discuss Indian Point’s decommissioning and nuclear waste storage. The event, which drew about 100 people to the basement of the Desmond-Fish Library, was co-sponsored by Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, The Journal News and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
After giving a brief walk-through of the process that creates nuclear energy, Edwards cautioned that nuclear waste “will be a public health problem for millennia to come.”
He advocates a nuclear waste management concept called rolling stewardship. which calls for constant monitoring of the waste products. “Since we don’t know what to do with waste, really,” Edwards said. “We don’t know how to get rid of it, we don’t know how to neutralize it, it is therefore wrong to abandon it.”
“Do we know how to manage nuclear waste? Yes, we do. We know how to package this stuff, we know how to keep it out of the environment with really good packaging. But of course this costs money, it has to be done properly,” said Edwards.
Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information Resource Service, a nonprofit that describes itself as advocating for a “a nuclear-free, carbon-free world,” stressed the importance of communities staying engaged throughout the process.
“There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty and possibly some disappointment about what the final outcome of decommissioning is going to be,” Judson said. “There’s a lot of talk about greenfielding the site at the end of decommissioning, and that has not really happened in any case of a reactor closure.”
Geoffrey Fettus, a senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council, described Indian Point as a “huge industrial cleanup.” He added that the site has “an extraordinarily different component to it — waste that lasts for essentially millions of years.”
Robert Alvarez, a scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Department of Energy, warned that the communities surrounding Indian Point were entering into “a realm of great uncertainty.”
“You must get involved, you must demand transparency,” HE said. “You must get them to confess to what they really know and what they really don’t know and what the uncertainties are and you must demand contingencies to deal with the uncertainties.”
Entergy announced the settlement to close the plant with the state and the environmental group Riverkeeper in January. Under the terms of the deal, Indian Point Unit 2 will shut down by April 30, 2020 and Unit 3 by April 30, 2021. The deal requires Entergy to provide $15 million for environmental stewardship and to transfer used fuel to dry casks storage at a minimum rate of four casks per year, reaching at least 24 casks by 2021.
Entergy spokesperson Jerry Nappi said in a statement that Entergy has begun engaging the community on “what can be expected to occur in the future” regarding decommissioning.
“Entergy will adhere to established federal regulation in regard to the decommissioning of Indian Point to ensure the safety and security of the site, including the used fuel that has been safely stored on it for decades,” Nappi said. “Until the federal government removes the fuel from the site, Entergy is obligated to manage the safe and secure storage of the fuel using processes approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
Officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were scheduled to hold a public hearing in Tarrytown on June 14 to discuss its annual safety performance review of Indian Point. The NRC announced in advance that its inspections last year found the plant operated safely in 2016.