In January, New York Governor Cuomo, Riverkeeper, an environmental group, and Entergy, a nuclear utility, announced a joint agreement to shut down the two nuclear reactors at Indian Point (IP) by April 2021. Replacement power will be provided by clean energy sources consistent with New York’s Clean Energy Standard, which requires 50% of the State’s electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030. It is claimed that this can be achieved with a negligible cost to ratepayers. The plant currently provides carbon-free and low cost electricity for about one quarter of the power consumed by New York City and Westchester County. However, opponents of the plant argue that IP’s location poses a major risk to the nearby highly populated area if an accident were to occur.
A number of local legislators are questioning this joint agreement, pointing out that closure means significant job losses and a reduced tax base. The adequacy of the decommissioning fund also is in doubt, leaving the possibility that radioactive fuel will remain on site for many years, perhaps decades.
An alternative to closing IP would be to modernize the emergency plan, thus addressing the safety concerns. Instead of needing to evacuate 20 million people within 50 miles of IP, as many incorrectly believe, a much simpler and highly effective emergency response is available. At Fukushima, the Japanese were able to prevent any early fatalities from radiological sources by preemptively evacuating the inner two miles around the site and sheltering downwind. Many hours were available to implement this simple emergency response. According to the World Health Organization long term radiological health effects would be too small to even be detectable. If the Japanese can achieve essentially zero radiological health effects in spite of a greater than magnitude 9 earthquake and a towering tsunami, surely New York can use this modern emergency response to protect its citizens in the unlikely event of a reactor accident at IP.