Indian Point will permanently stop producing nuclear power Friday, unplugging a key source of electricity for nearby New York City that opponents call a threat to millions living in the surrounding, densely packed metropolitan region.
The retirement of the Indian Point Energy Center could increase New York’s short-term reliance on natural gas plants, despite the state’s goal of reducing carbon emissions.
But Governor Andrew Cuomo and others who fought for its closure say any benefits for the Hudson River are eclipsed by the prospect of a major accident or a terror strike 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the city.
The Unit 2 reactor was taken offline exactly a year ago under a 2017 agreement among the Cuomo administration, the environmental group Riverkeeper and the plant’s operator, Entergy Corp. Unit 3 is shutting down Friday under the same agreement, paving the way a decommissioning that is projected to cost $2.3 billion over at least 12 years.
The two reactors, which went online two years apart in the mid-1970s, had generated about a quarter of the electricity used in New York City and the lower Hudson Valley.
They also generated controversy.
Environmentalists faulted the plant for killing fish by taking in massive amounts of river water for cooling.
Critics said the plant was antiquated and pointed to a safety history that included faulty reactor bolts and radioactive tritium detected in groundwater onsite.
Fears that Indian Point could be a terror target intensified after one of the planes hijacked for the Sept. 11 attacks flew by the plant on its way down the river to the World Trade Center.
Cuomo said the densely populated suburbs by the plant could not be evacuated quickly enough.
Nuclear power has been a presence in the village since the first, long-since-retired reactor built on the site of a former amusement park went online in 1962.
Nuclear plants have been closing in recent years amid low natural gas prices, slow growth in electricity demand and competition from renewables.
Entergy has said low wholesale energy prices and operating costs factored into its 2017 decision to close Indian Point.
Indian Point’s exit is not expected create reliability problems for New York’s electrical grid.
But it comes as the Democratic Cuomo administration works to increase the share of electricity generated by clean renewables like wind and solar. The state aims to get 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Indian Point proponents say its retirement will require New York to rely more heavily on fossil-fuel burning natural gas plants. They note that natural gas generation in New York already increased last year after Unit 2 closed.
Backers of the closure say any potential bump up in New York natural gas generation needs to be considered in context of a decrease in fossil fuel generation since 2016, as well as progress in renewables and energy efficiency.
New York has more than 20 large-scale renewable energy infrastructure projects that will be under construction this year with more planned.
Tom Congdon, chairman of Cuomo’s Indian Point task force, said the state has been preparing for the closure for years and the state remains on target for its clean air goals.
He said any fluctuation in natural gas generation would be temporary because of all renewable energy projects scheduled to come online in the next few years.
Pending state regulatory approval, Entergy will transfer Indian Point to New Jersey-based Holtec International for decommissioning. Spent fuel is being moved to gigantic onsite “dry casks” until it can go elsewhere.
Holtec said it will provide job opportunities more than 300 Indian Point employees, and local communities will have access to payments and assistance to ease their post-nuclear transition.
Village of Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker, a lifetime resident, said she hopes some of the 240-acre site along the river will be used for residential and commercial development.
But as Indian Point shuts down Friday, she will take part in a ceremony near the site honoring the plant workers.
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