New York’s nuclear energy landscape is poised to shift dramatically in 2016, as it shrinks by one reactor and as the governor readies a policy that would recognize nuclear as a key bridge fuel to a renewable-powered future.
At least one of the state’s six nuclear reactors may be shuttered, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is aggressively targeting two more, both at the Indian Point facility in Westchester, for closure. A fourth faces closure in less than two years, though a new Cuomo administration climate initiative could extend its life for at least another decade.
Collectively, the six reactors, housed at four plants, represent about 3,500 megawatts of power — enough to power more than 3 million homes — and contribute a third of the state’s power. As the state shifts toward renewable energy, under a mandate to power half its electrical grid with solar and wind by 2030, nuclear also supplies about 60 percent of its carbon-free power.
Closing just one reactor today, before any more renewable resources are built, could worsen air pollution by almost 10 percent, a market analysis by the global investment firm UBS found. Replacing that reactor could take hundreds of wind turbines or many thousands of solar panels.
But community groups are concerned about the potential for accidents, and environmentalists about the toll nuclear takes on water resources and the wildlife killed when reactors use river or lake water for cooling — particularly at Indian Point, less than 30 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River.
In November, Jim Malatras, Cuomo’s director of state operations, asked the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to oppose the plant’s relicensing, citing “embrittled reactor pressure vessels and fatigued metals on key reactor components” and saying there was no safety evacuation route for the 20 million people living within 50 miles of it in case of a serious accident. But the NRC hasn’t flagged that as an issue that should lead to the plant’s closure.