At a November 2021 Board of Education meeting of Hendrick Hudson School District, Amy Galinko took the podium. “Even if the board disagrees with me, and the 170 families in my group, that there is a risk to BV [Buchanan Verplanck] Elementary, they have to at least acknowledge that it would only take one bad day or one bad hour for our concerns to be validated and all of our lives to be changed irrevocably.”
Amy’s group is Safe Indian Point Demolition, which she started with husband Dan as a forum for concerned parents like themselves to discuss the safety implications of decommissioning Indian Point, and to “serve as an organizing point for holding public officials accountable for their responsibility to public safety.”
Indian Point Energy Center, the nuclear power plant that has been in Buchanan since 1962, permanently shut down in April 2021. It is now being decommissioned, a long and complicated process involving decontaminating and dismantling the facility, transporting the nuclear waste, and readying the property for other uses.
In May 2021, Indian Point was purchased by Holtec International from Entergy Corporation in a deal that allowed the site to enter immediate decommissioning. Holtec has promised to dismantle the three nuclear reactors and clean up the site (the plant and surrounding 240 acres) in 12-15 years, decades faster than expected.
Holtec is primarily a nuclear fuel and waste management company. When it applied to purchase Indian Point from Entergy in April 2019, the company had never before decommissioned a nuclear facility.
It is currently in the early stages of decommissioning two other nuclear plants: Oyster Creek in New Jersey (shut down September 2018) and Pilgrim in Massachusetts (shut down May 2019). Indian Point will be the third in its young “fleet.”
While Indian Point is no longer operating as a nuclear facility, as was the case when the Hudson River plant was owned and operated by Entergy, a significant segment of the surrounding populace — especially those with children enrolled in nearby schools — remains critical and vigilant, shifting their focus to safety concerns with the current decommissioning plan.
Holetc has run afoul of authorities and regulators several times in the past few years, a checkered history that has served to elevate concerns by local officials and residents about its oversight of the Indian Point decommissioning process.
According to Holtec’s Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR), Indian Point’s used nuclear fuel will be removed from the reactor vessel and placed in the spent fuel pool to cool, which has happened.
Once cooled, the fuel will be placed in stainless steel canisters and transported by 2024 to the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Facility (ISFSI) on the property. The spent nuclear fuel will be removed by the Department of Energy (DOE) beginning in 2030 and completed by 2061.
The entire process will be monitored at the Federal level by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and at the state level by the Department of Public Safety (DPS), as well as by the Decommissioning Oversight Board (DOB), which includes local government officials, the school district, local labor leaders, environmental and technical experts, and relevant state agencies.
NYS Assemblywoman Sandy Galef points out that Holtec’s plan, as written, does not mention the presence of the natural gas and high-pressure gas pipelines that traverse Indian Point, including the 42-inch Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline.
In a public comment to the NRC, Galef noted, “A brazen and cavalier approach to pipeline safety would greatly endanger countless lives of nearby school children, residents, and Holtec employees working on site. Without mention of the pipeline in the PSDAR one is left to wonder if Holtec is prepared to execute their mission with competence.”
Town of Cortlandt Supervisor-Elect Richard Becker agrees that the plan is inadequate and that high-level radioactive waste and high-pressure pipelines “are a potentially hazardous combination, and a more proactive assessment is required to separate these two activities.”
New York State Senator Pete Harckham has asked for the AIM pipeline to be shut down during decommissioning, but so far Enbridge, the pipeline owner, has not agreed.
Others are not so concerned. NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan explains that the commission “had an expert team examine its safety and it determined that a rupture of the pipeline was unlikely and that even if that were to occur, the plant would remain protected.”
Patrick O’Brien, of Holtec/SNC–Lavalin’s Comprehensive Decommissioning International, says that it does not plan to traverse any of the gas lines on site during the transfer of fuel, but if it does, steel plating will be laid across the line(s).
Oak Ridge National Labs is currently conducting an independent review of the safety of the pipelines at Indian Point. Tom Congdon, Executive Deputy of the New York State Department of Public Service, and Chair of the DOB, says he is eagerly awaiting the results so they can move forward with the safest plan possible.
David Lochbaum, a retired Nuclear Engineer and the DOB’s technical expert, explains that the routine releases of radioactivity from plants being decommissioned averaged 36% of the amount being released from operating plants. The amount of radioactivity released from operating plants is itself a small fraction of the amount allowed to be released under federal regulations.
“The threat to the public from routine airborne radiation releases from Indian Point is significantly lessened than it was when the reactor(s) operated,” he said.
Among the most unsettling aspects of the decommissioning for parents is the plant’s proximity to three buildings in the Hendrick Hudson School District: Hendrick Hudson High School (1.4 miles away), Frank G. Lindsey Elementary (1.35 miles away) and Buchanan-Verplanck Elementary (BV) (0.7 miles away).
Residents of Buchanan are concerned about nuclear waste traveling on their local roads. Patrick O’Brien said the transportation of “low-level waste” from the site is consistent with waste disposal practices when both nuclear units were operating.
The initial truck route is north on Broadway, east on Louisa Street, onto Route 9. The route avoids Buchanan-Verplank Elementary School, Buchanan Pool, Village Park, and Village Day Camp.
Safe Indian Point Demolition — which includes local influencers like Courtney M. Williams, a parent, activist and co-founder of the Safe Energy Rights Group—has created a list of safety demands.
They include state-of-the-art, real-time contamination testing and monitoring, to be reviewed by an independent scientist (not affiliated with NRC or Holtec), that will provide a daily positive affirmation of school safety during demolition.
Also specified is a back-up plan in case BV becomes contaminated/uninhabitable during demolition; restricting demolition to the summer months when schools are mostly empty; deep cleaning of schools after demolition activities; and closing the flow of natural gas lines while heavy machinery is operating above.
O’Brien assures that the demolition of the facility will occur “in a surgical manner, following federal and state standards, which includes our use of technology to ensure dust mitigation.” Additionally, before the buildings and structures are removed, they will be cleaned and abated of hazards such as asbestos, lead paint, and organic chemicals like PCB.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s office recently sent $500,000 to the Hendrick Hudson School District to help with radiation monitoring costs.
Carol Abraham, Hendrick Hudson’s Board of Education President, says the district will begin meeting with technical experts as soon as possible to discuss the best use of these funds to ensure that additional, individualized safety measures are taken at all five of its schools.
Indian Point Community Advisory Panel > indianpointcap.com
Safe Indian Point Demolition > facebook.com/groups/safeipdemo
Safe Energy Rights Group > senrgorg.com
Caedra Scott-Flaherty is a writer living in Croton-on-Hudson. Find her at Caedra.com.