Indian Point Unit 2 reactor to shut down for good
- Apr 30, 2020 1:51 pm GMT
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."
(c)2020 Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y.
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