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Indian Point Unit 2 reactor to shut down for good

  • Apr 30, 2020
  • 897 views
Source: 
Daily Messenger

Indian Point's Unit 2 reactor ascended along the shores of the Hudson River in the late 1960s at a time of great optimism for the nuclear power movement in the U.S.

Engineers had just perfected a method to harness nuclear power that had gone into producing the atomic bomb used during World War II and turned it into a dependable, cost-effective energy source for homes and businesses. There was talk of building 200 reactors across the country.

The water-pressured Unit 2 reactor started generating power in 1974 and for decades to come, alongside its sister reactor Unit 3, the duo became workhorses, contributing enough energy to satisfy 25% of the electricity needs of Westchester County and New York City.

It chugged along even as anti-nuclear sentiment hardened following mishaps at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 dampened enthusiasm for nuclear power. It survived changes in ownership, unplanned shutdowns that attracted the attention of federal regulators, not to mention blackouts.

But in recent weeks, like an aging athlete who's lost a step, Unit 2's generating capacity has been lagging. On April 9, its capacity was 82% as the potency of fuel loaded two years ago loses energy.

On April 30, when capacity will be down around 65%, the 46-year-old reactor will power down for good. Around 11 p.m., a reactor operator in the control room will press a red button, stopping the reactor's nuclear fission from occurring.

With that, the hourglass that will track Indian Point's final year will be flipped.

Unit 3, which started generating power two years after Unit 2, will shut down around this time next year. Unit 1 shut down in October 1974 after 12 years producing power when federal regulators said its emergency cooling system was not up to standards.

In the end, it wasn't anti-nuclear sentiment that led to the pending shutdown, although that was a factor. The Buchanan power plant's owner, Louisiana-based Entergy, said costly legal challenges led by the state of New York made it difficult to continue.

But the cheap price of abundant natural gas, which has made it difficult for nuclear power to compete in the energy market, forced Entergy's decision. Dozens of reactors across the U.S. have already shut down or are scheduled to in the coming years.

So, will anyone miss the reactor when it's gone?

Lights won't flicker. Phones will still have a ready source of power. The state's energy grid will simply shift to other sources of energy.

And that's where Unit 2's absence may be felt the most.

James Hansen, a former NASA scientist who was among the first to highlight the consequences of climate change, believes the shutdown is a wrongheaded decision that will open the way for the state's greater reliance on fossil fuels.

"It is a foolish action that disrespects the well-being and the rights of young people," said Hansen, who teaches at Columbia University. "The sensible approach, as renewable energy is developed and as energy efficiency is improved, is to first close down fossil fuel power plants."

He added: "Many people will die because of the stupidity of this action, in which a nuclear power plant is closed before all fossil fuel power plants have been closed."

Indeed, natural gas remains a ready source of energy in New York state and has filled in before when the energy produced by nuclear power leaves the grid.

Last year, The Journal News/lohud analyzed what happened when both of Indian Point's reactors shut down -- Unit 3 for a refueling and Unit 2 because of a malfunction on the non-nuclear side of the reactor. The analysis showed that natural gas picked up much of the slack.

Jessica Azulay, the executive director of Alliance for a Green Economy, says renewables' share of the grid has been increasing and says Unit 2's shutdown will barely register.

"Indian Point's output has not been needed for a long time," Azulay said. "We don't face any possibility of a power shortage when Indian Point shuts down, and the situation has been improving with additional demand reductions due to energy efficiency measures and more renewables coming online in the downstate area."

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(c)2020 Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y.

Visit Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y. at www.MPNnow.com

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Discussions
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Corey Munz's picture
Corey Munz on May 1, 2020

I take exception to the comparison to an aging athlete losing a step. Indian Point 2 was operating as designed, and the plant and operators were performing flawlessly during the power reduction up to the final shut down. The plant was shining clean and very well-maintained. To get a feel for this you can see a tour lasting 6 minutes here

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 1, 2020

Thanks for the link, Corey-- interesting to see 'in person,' if you will. What would you say is behind this article's reported capacity drop?

Corey Munz's picture
Corey Munz on May 1, 2020

Thanks, Matt. Good question. Normally during continued operation, our refueling  would replace approximately 1/3 of the core with new fuel and design it to last two years, and then be shut down over the course of a day. This time, during the last refueling we designed the last cycle to run for 2 years with a 97% load factor and 45 day coast down. Coast down happens when the fuel starts to be used up and a controlled power reduction occurs. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 1, 2020

@Corey Munz

Bravo Corey. The shutdown of Indian Point has nothing to do with generating clean energy, and everything to do with fossil fuel interests seizing an opportunity to replace it with dirty gas generation.

"Working for Natural Gas Interests, Former Cuomo Aides Lobbied to Kill Indian Point Nuclear Plant

Environmental Progress (EP) has learned that two top former aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo worked with a major Cuomo campaign contributor, the natural gas company Competitive Power Ventures, to close Indian Point nuclear plant.

The New York Times reported today that Indian Point's operator had agreed to close the plant, bowing to intense pressure from Cuomo.

Mention of the episode is an a federal criminal indictment filed by Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, on September 22, 2016.

'Based on my review of publicly available documents and my interviews of witnesses,' wrote the US attorney, 'including employees of [Competitive Power Ventures], the importance of the [CPV Valley Energy Center] to the State depended at least in part, on whether [Indian Point] was going to be shut down.'

The indictment suggests that Competitive Power Ventures and the Cuomo administration both recognized that if Indian Point were taken off line, it would be replaced by natural gas, not imported hydro and wind, as an anonymous source told the New York Times.

Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) donated $75,000 to Cuomo in 2009, and made bribes to Cuomo's top aide, according to U.S. Attorney in New York, starting in 2010.

CPV Valley Energy Center is a 650-megawatt, natural-gas power plant in Wawayanda, New York. It was seeking a $100 million, 15 year power purchase agreement.

As early as 2010, [former Gov. Andrew Cuomo aide Todd R.] Howe began to seek [Cuomo aide Joseph] Percoco's assistance in influencing the Former State Operations Director with respect to the Power Plant, most specifically by asking Percoco to advise the Former State Operations Director that the Power Plant was supported by labor unions and to advocate for the closing of [Indian Point]."

Corey Munz's picture
Corey Munz on May 4, 2020

I knew it was definitely political, Bob.  However, I didn't know much about this part of the back story.  Thanks for sharing this.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 5, 2020

You're welcome. Even though the corruption scandal appeared in the New York Times, the Times has a well-known anti-nuclear bias and didn't report the fact money had changed hands for the express purpose of closing IPEC.

Michael Shellenberg and his team at Environmental Progress can take credit for the sleuthing needed to reveal the motive behind the money.

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