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Fissures Open Over Possible Indian Point Closing

January 18, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Just 30 miles up the Hudson River from the city sits the Indian Point Nuclear Plant. Nuclear proponents and opponents have been scrapping over the plant’s future for years. When the nuclear plant disaster struck Japan last year, renewed calls for Indian Point’s closing reverberated up and down the Hudson. But Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union believes that there is no substitute for the 2000 megawatts of energy the plant produces daily.

John Melia, spokesman for Local 1-2, said that no one in the state has a concrete plan to replace the plant’s power were it to close. Governor Cuomo has proposed that the private sector fork over $2 billion for new transmission lines to transport hydro power from Quebec, according to Melia.

“I don’t think in this economy you’ll find a private venture that’ll undertake a project to replace Indian Point’s energy because they’ll have to overcome numerous obstacles such as environmental impact statements, local zoning regulations and state regulators,” said Melia.

Melia questioned, “Show me where alternative energy projects can produce the kind of wattage Indian Point produces?” He noted that the plant produces 30 percent of the city’s energy needs and has an exemplary safety record. “Nuclear-powered energy is the cleanest and most efficient power available on a large scale,” Melia said.

Renewable energy has been advertised as an effective means to generate comparable energy production while reducing harmful greenhouse gases generated from traditional fossil fuel sources but has also been criticized as too costly an energy alternative.  

Philip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director for Riverkeeper, an environmental organization that has long fought to preserve the Hudson River’s ecosystem, said that there are now alternative energy options available to replace the power produced by Indian Point.

He noted that at a recent Assembly hearing in Albany on the possible closure of Indian Point, an expert with an energy research and consulting firm testified that there is a “large potential for new resources in the region” to replace Indian Point’s power, such as a combination of renewables, energy efficiency, new transmission lines and new natural gas-powered plants.

Energy efficiency alone could replace part of the plant’s power (up to 500 MW), according to Musegaas. He cited that the owners of the Empire State Building retrofitted the building and have realized a 40 percent reduction in energy costs. “The energy cost savings will allow the owners to recoup their retrofit investments in five years,” said Musegaas.

Of particular concern to Musegaas is Indian Point’s negative impacts on the Hudson’s ecosystem. He explained that the plant uses a “once-through cooling system,” whereby the plant literally sucks in river water to cool the plant’s condensers and then is discharged back into the river heated.

“Because Indian Point is a 24/7 operation, the plant kills more than 1 billion fish and other aquatic life over the course of a year and uses 2 ½ billion gallons of water per day,” said Musegaas. To place those negative impacts in perspective, Musegaas emphasized that the city’s population of about 9 million uses 1.1 billion gallons of water per day, “but this one plant uses 2 ½ billion gallons.”

In response, Melia said that Indian Point’s owner, Entergy, in concert with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, are working to deploy proven technologies such as wedge wires that can mitigate the negative impacts to aquatic life caught up in the plant’s intake of river water.

In addition to the negative environmental impacts, Riverkeeper is seeking Indian Point’s closure because of the possibility of a major radioactive leak. Musegaas noted that if such an event occurred, the consequences could be catastrophic.

“Because it would be so difficult to evacuate people out of the way of a radioactive plume, a great number of people would be exposed. Just leaving aside the enormous public health impacts, if radiation leaked, it would destroy the economy locally and affect even the national economy because of the property damage in the city and Westchester, home to the country’s highest property values.”

But Melia noted that such a scenario will not happen because the plant is safe and impregnable thanks to the 500 professional and very well-trained members of Local 1-2. Some of the dangerous tasks the members do is working with the fuel rods that contain nuclear fuel in the cooling rooms. “Our members are the frontline troops to make sure Indian Point is safe,” said Melia. To allay the concerns of anti-nuclear groups “who are always going around saying that the sky is falling,” Melia said that, “we get no complaints from our members in terms of safety violations.”

Melia mentioned that he frankly doesn’t like the way groups like Riverkeeper insist on Indian Point’s closure. “They have an arrogant attitude towards labor. They never take into account the impact a closure would have on the community and the members’ families. Some people feel entitled to say the sky is falling to take advantage of an event [the Fukushima meltdown in Japan] on the other side of the world and use it as a soap box to close Indian Point.”

But Musegaas insists that Riverkeeper’s goal to close Indian Point is not to eliminate union jobs, but to ensure the safety of millions of people. Rather, the alternative energy technologies Riverkeeper is proposing would lead to job creation. He cited that the current construction of a 550 MW transmission line to transmit energy from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania power grid to the city is creating jobs, as will the proposed construction of a 1000 MW natural gas plant in Dutchess County and a 1000 MW transmission line to transport hydro power from Quebec.

Both Melia and Musegaas said that neither the union nor Riverkeeper have approached one another to air out their differences and concerns over Indian Point. Musegaas acknowledged that it’s easy for union members to see groups like Riverkeeper as outsiders trying to take their jobs away. “But that’s not our intention.”  

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