Reprinted From : http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601088&sid=a.Y7MW1H7PTM&refer=muse
Commentary by Mike Di Paola
Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, New York is showing its age. Patches of rust scar its gray concrete domes, and a derelict smokestack looms over the decades-old facility, which still commands a choice view of the Hudson River.
“There are very toxic, highly irradiated tanks partially buried on site,” says attorney Phillip Musegaas, who serves as Hudson River Program Director for Riverkeeper, the nonprofit guardian of the Hudson River and protector of 2,000 square miles of watershed that feed New York City’s water supply.
Plant owner Entergy Corp. is hoping to renew licenses for the two remaining reactor units here, which are set to expire by 2015. There has always been some opposition to Indian Point. Now, the forces aligned against it -- from New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation to State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo -- might be too formidable to withstand.
Musegaas began preparing legal challenges to the license renewals in 2006, not long after it was revealed that radioactive contaminants strontium-90 and tritium were leaking into the Hudson from those very tanks. The leak was traced back to reactor Unit 1, which had been shut down in the 1970s. In November, Entergy said it had cleaned up the mess.
“We think these contaminants are getting into the soil and vegetation,” says Musegaas, “and are bio-accumulating in fish,” meaning that these noxious substances collect and concentrate as they travel up the food chain.
Then there’s the plant’s cooling system, which uses river water as a coolant -- to the peril of millions of fish, fish eggs and larvae that get sucked into the system.
“They use 2.2 billion gallons of water a day,” says Riverkeeper’s boat captain John Lipscomb. “All the life in that water gets cooked. It’s a massive impact.”
The company dismisses such scary talk. “Any impact we have on the environment and the river is minimal,” says Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi.
“No plant in the history of the industry has ever gone back to retrofit cooling towers,” he adds.
The cost of such a retrofit -- an estimated $1.5 billion -- would be out of the question, according to Nappi.
Believe it or not, Riverkeeper does not oppose nuclear power, per se. It only wants to ensure that nuclear facilities are safe and that their operation does not endanger the water supply. There’s nothing kooky about this position.
“People buy the argument that we need the power too much, we need the electricity,” says Musegaas. “It’s treated as an evil and a risk that we have to live with.”
Indian Point generates 2,140 megawatts of electricity, nearly a quarter of the juice delivered to the metropolitan area.
Time to Shut Down?
A 2006 report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the Indian Point units could be retired when their current operating licenses expire “without causing a major disruption of power capacity in southeastern New York” -- assuming that a combination of new power and conservation can take up the slack.
Governor David Paterson also suggests it’s time to shut the place down, if new energy sources can be found.
“The Governor feels that the NRC should not renew the plant’s license unless Entergy addresses long-standing environmental and safety concerns,” says spokesman Morgan Hook.
Even if Indian Point shuts down, the job isn’t over. “That’s going to be a contaminated site,” say Musegaas. “We’re concerned that Entergy doesn’t have the money to clean it up.”
The company did just announce it would spend $100 million on various cosmetic improvements, such as enhancing public access for tours and landscaping to make the site less of an eyesore.
(Mike Di Paola writes about preservation and the environment for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)