In what one environmental group called a "milestone in the state's evolving energy landscape," New York's Indian Point Energy Center—a nuclear power plant located just 36 miles north of Midtown Manhattan—will permanently shut down on Friday.
"There are 20 million people living within 50 miles of Indian Point and there is no way to evacuate them in case of a radiological release. And the risk of that is quite real."
—Paul Gallay, Riverkeeper
The closure of the 58-year-old facility, which is located along the Hudson River in Westchester County, is the result of a 2017 agreement (pdf) between New York officials, plant owner Entergy, and the environmental group Riverkeeper. Going offline will be the first step in a $2.3 billion, 12-year decommissioning process that will see the dramatic demolition of the plant's towering twin domes.
While shutting down the plant means more planet-heating fossil fuels will be burned to make up for the lost production, anti-nuclear campaigners and other shutdown proponents say they're more worried about the risk of an accident or terror attack at the plant.
"There are 20 million people living within 50 miles of Indian Point and there is no way to evacuate them in case of a radiological release. And the risk of that is quite real," Riverkeeper president Paul Gallay told the Associated Press.
Accoring to Riverkeeper, Indian Point "has a long history of accidental radioactive leaks and spills."
"Spent fuel pools at the plant housing toxic nuclear waste have been leaking since the 1990s, corroded buried pipes have sprung radioactive leaks, tanks have spilled hundreds of gallons radioactively contaminated water, and malfunctioning valves and pumps have leaked radionuclide-laden water," the group said on its website.
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Kit Kennedy, senior director of climate and clean energy programs at the National Resources Defense Council, said in a statement that "there's no question that Indian Point was sited in the wrong place some 50 years ago—a location where a severe accident would jeopardize the health of millions of people and where no large-scale evacuation plan would be remotely feasible."
Kennedy downplayed concerns about increased fossil fuel use to compensate for the shuttered plant's lost output, noting that "because of New York's landmark 2019 climate legislation and years of clean energy planning and investments by the state, [it] is better positioned today than ever to achieve its ambitious climate and clean energy goals without this risky plant."
It’s about time that New York is making good on its promise to replace the unsafe Indian Point Nuclear Plant with #CleanEnergy, safeguarding the health of the 20 million people living near the plant. https://t.co/6e3eyUEEOS
— NRDC (@NRDC) April 27, 2021
New York officials acknowledge that the plant's closure represents a small setback on the road toward the clean energy future experts say is crucial to avoiding the worst possible consequences of the climate emergency.
However, they argue the setback is temporary, as several renewable power projects including two large wind farms off the Long Island coast with a combined capacity of over 3,200 megawatts are under construction or approved.
"Once the large-scale renewable and offshore wind farms are complete, more than half of New York's electricity will come from renewable sources, putting the state ahead of schedule toward reaching its goal of 70% renewable energy by 2030," Tom Congdon, head of embattled Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Indian Point Task Force, told the New York Times earlier this month.