Indian Point nuclear-reactor shutdown a huge blow to New York’s environment

New York Post
April 29, 2020

By Tuesday, the pandemic had infected 295,000 New Yorkers and killed more than 17,000. Amid the horrific toll, it’s appropriate to mourn the passing of one notable longtime New Yorker in particular: the Unit 2 reactor at the Indian Point Energy Center.

The workhorse, Westchester-based nuclear-power generator, which could have run for several more decades, is scheduled to be unplugged Thursday. Cause of death: political expediency and exaggerated fears about accidents and radiation.

Welcomed into the world just 10 months after the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, Unit 2 was an industry giant, churning out huge amounts of reliable, carbon-free electricity from a tiny footprint.

A modest sort, it rarely bragged, but the 1,028-megawatt Westinghouse machine delivered about 8,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year from a site on the Hudson River that covers less than a half square mile.

Unit 2’s prodigious output left its more politically popular rivals — solar and wind energy — in the shade. Ivanpah, the biggest thermal-solar project in America, puts out less than 800 gigawatt-hours of juice each year. Located in California’s Mojave Desert, the solar plant sprawls over about 3,500 acres (about 5.4 square miles).

To match Unit 2’s output with solar-thermal energy would require 10 Ivanpahs covering 140 times more territory than what Indian Point uses.

Unit 2 also towered over wind turbines. Replacing the electric power it generated with wind energy would require blanketing roughly 250 square miles with wind turbines — an area nearly as large as New York City.

Alas, Unit 2 had powerful opponents in Albany, including Gov. Cuomo, who didn’t care about the land-use conflicts over renewables that are now raging in upstate New York. Environmental groups, like Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council, loathed Unit 2.

They ignored pleas from small towns like Yates and Somerset, which over the past few months declared themselves “sanctuaries” against the unwanted encroachment of politically mandated wind and solar projects.

Unit 2 watched wistfully as the state lavished subsidies on its competitors. In 2017, three days after Cuomo announced Indian Point would be prematurely shuttered, his appointees at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority revealed plans to shower $360 million in subsidies on renewable-energy projects.

NYSERDA, which gets most of its funding from surcharges slapped onto New Yorkers’ utility bills, agreed to pay $24.24 per megawatt-hour for electricity produced by wind projects owned by NextEra Energy and Invenergy. The state subsidies were to be stacked on top of the federal production-tax credit worth as much as $23 per megawatt-hour.

Thus, while Unit 2 got no financial support from the state, its Big Wind rivals were feasting on subsidies worth as much as $47 per megawatt-hour.

That’s a hefty sum given that in 2018, according to the New York Independent System Operator, the average price of wholesale electricity in the state was about $45 per megawatt-hour.

The loss of Unit 2 should be mourned by climate activists: Much of its electricity will be replaced by fossil-fuel (natural-gas) powered plants, including the 1,100-megawatt Cricket Valley Energy Center, a $1.6 billion facility in Dover completed this month.

Over the past few weeks, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and other groups mounted a last-ditch effort to persuade Cuomo to spare the reactor. To no avail.

Indian Point’s Unit 2 is survived by a sister: Unit 3, a 1,041-megawatt reactor to be euthanized in April 2021. Final interment of the two reactors’ fuel rods at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is awaiting further action by Congress pursuant to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982.

Unit 2 was 45 years old.

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