We Can Power New York without Risking Disaster at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant

The Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York has attracted a lot of attention lately. Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for its shut down. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani is starring in a new ad campaign for the facility. And in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, New Yorkers are wondering what it means to live near a nuclear plant vulnerable to earthquakes. 

Today, NRDC and Riverkeeper released http://www.nrdc.org/media/2011/111017a.asp clarify the key issues surrounding the plant.

The first report concludes that among the 104 operating nuclear reactors in America, Indian Point poses heightened health, safety, and financial risks to millions of people living nearby.

The second report finds that we don’t need this plant to power our region—we have a surplus of electricity capacity  right now and enormous potential to develop greater efficiency and renewable resources. Even if the Indian Point units close when their licenses expire in 2015, we wouldn’t need to create new electricity capacity until 2020.

I live just 25 miles from Indian Point, and I see it looming along the banks of the Hudson River whenever I take a northbound train. But even if I lived across the country, I would still ask the same question: Why should we put the health and safety of millions of people at risk when we don’t need to?

Especially when the threat of catastrophic disaster is all too real. After the crisis at Fukushima, press reports indicated that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had identified one of the Indian Point units as the most vulnerable to a seismic disaster in the entire nation. Unlike its West Coast counterparts, Indian Point doesn’t have adequate protection against earthquakes—even thought it sits in a seismically active location.

The calculations in our report show that that an accident on the scale of Fukushima could send a fallout plume south to the New York metro area, requiring 5.6 million people to take shelter or evacuate and putting them at increased risk for cancer and genetic damage. It could also render a swath of land down to the George Washington Bridge uninhabitable due to radiation. If an accident on the scale of Chernobyl occurred, Manhattan could become too contaminated to live in, and Hudson Valley residents could be at risk for potentially fatal radiation sickness.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission claims these are acceptable risks, but it’s not what I’d call “safe.”

The truly safe path would be to replace Indian Point with cleaner, more sustainable energy sources—sources that are ready to be tapped right now.

Indian Point generates 2,000 MW of electricity. Energy efficiency resources beyond those now planned—already the cheapest, fastest, cleanest energy solutions—could provide as much as 1,550 MW of capacity savings in New York City and the Indian Point region. Roughly 6,000 MW of new renewable energy projects are also already under development—for reliability planning purposes, we can count about 600 MW of these projects to replace Indian Point.

Using very conservative estimates, our report shows that increased efficiency and renewable projects alone could provide enough capacity to replace Indian Point with safe and reliable electricity supply. There are other energy alternatives for serious consideration, including repowering existing older power plants in the city to make them more efficiency, and several major new transmission lines that would bring power to New York City from other regions.

And we can do it at moderate cost.  The likely cost on monthly consumer electricity bills will be about $1 to $5 per month. The more we rely on efficiency as a replacement, the lower the increase will be. Customers who participate in new efficiency programs will actually lower their bills from current rates. 

When you weigh that range of possible costs against the hazards of a nuclear disaster in the New York area, replacing Indian Point makes economic and practical sense.

The tragedy in Fukushima alerted New Yorkers to the dangers of living near a nuclear plant underprepared to deal with an earthquake or a loss of power. The reports issued today by NRDC and Riverkeeper confirm that we don’t have to accept these risks any longer. With the leadership of Governor Cuomo and the concern of millions of New Yorkers, now is the time to choose a safer, cleaner path.