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We Can Power New York without Risking Disaster at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant

Frances Beinecke

Posted October 17, 2011

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The Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York has attracted a lot of attention lately. Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for its shut down. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani is starring in a new ad campaign for the facility. And in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, New Yorkers are wondering what it means to live near a nuclear plant vulnerable to earthquakes. 

Today, NRDC and Riverkeeper released clarify the key issues surrounding the plant.

The first report concludes that among the 104 operating nuclear reactors in America, Indian Point poses heightened health, safety, and financial risks to millions of people living nearby.

The second report finds that we don’t need this plant to power our region—we have a surplus of electricity capacity  right now and enormous potential to develop greater efficiency and renewable resources. Even if the Indian Point units close when their licenses expire in 2015, we wouldn’t need to create new electricity capacity until 2020.

I live just 25 miles from Indian Point, and I see it looming along the banks of the Hudson River whenever I take a northbound train. But even if I lived across the country, I would still ask the same question: Why should we put the health and safety of millions of people at risk when we don’t need to?

Especially when the threat of catastrophic disaster is all too real. After the crisis at Fukushima, press reports indicated that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had identified one of the Indian Point units as the most vulnerable to a seismic disaster in the entire nation. Unlike its West Coast counterparts, Indian Point doesn’t have adequate protection against earthquakes—even thought it sits in a seismically active location.

The calculations in our report show that that an accident on the scale of Fukushima could send a fallout plume south to the New York metro area, requiring 5.6 million people to take shelter or evacuate and putting them at increased risk for cancer and genetic damage. It could also render a swath of land down to the George Washington Bridge uninhabitable due to radiation. If an accident on the scale of Chernobyl occurred, Manhattan could become too contaminated to live in, and Hudson Valley residents could be at risk for potentially fatal radiation sickness.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission claims these are acceptable risks, but it’s not what I’d call “safe.”

The truly safe path would be to replace Indian Point with cleaner, more sustainable energy sources—sources that are ready to be tapped right now.

Indian Point generates 2,000 MW of electricity. Energy efficiency resources beyond those now planned—already the cheapest, fastest, cleanest energy solutions—could provide as much as 1,550 MW of capacity savings in New York City and the Indian Point region. Roughly 6,000 MW of new renewable energy projects are also already under development—for reliability planning purposes, we can count about 600 MW of these projects to replace Indian Point.

Using very conservative estimates, our report shows that increased efficiency and renewable projects alone could provide enough capacity to replace Indian Point with safe and reliable electricity supply. There are other energy alternatives for serious consideration, including repowering existing older power plants in the city to make them more efficiency, and several major new transmission lines that would bring power to New York City from other regions.

And we can do it at moderate cost.  The likely cost on monthly consumer electricity bills will be about $1 to $5 per month. The more we rely on efficiency as a replacement, the lower the increase will be. Customers who participate in new efficiency programs will actually lower their bills from current rates. 

When you weigh that range of possible costs against the hazards of a nuclear disaster in the New York area, replacing Indian Point makes economic and practical sense.

The tragedy in Fukushima alerted New Yorkers to the dangers of living near a nuclear plant underprepared to deal with an earthquake or a loss of power. The reports issued today by NRDC and Riverkeeper confirm that we don’t have to accept these risks any longer. With the leadership of Governor Cuomo and the concern of millions of New Yorkers, now is the time to choose a safer, cleaner path. 

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Rock The ReactorsOct 17 2011 03:44 PM

One of the easiest, quickest, cheapest and most efficient ways to reduce electric consumption is retrofiting lighting with LEDs. 20 percent of our power goes to lighting. Since LEDs consumer 90% less electricity than incandescent or halogen to produce the same amount of lumens, if every art gallery, beauty salon, bookstore, coffeeshop, furniture showroom, on and on... would retrofit to LEDs from their usual halogen, it would drastically reduce the need for old and dangerous plants like Indian Point. Support Riverkeeper and the NRDC in their efforts, as well as the dozens of other grassroots organizations dedicated to this issue.

ConsiderOct 17 2011 04:19 PM

Indian Point, and all other nuclear reactors, need to be closed as soon as possible and the radioactive waste dealt with in as responsible, truthful and multiple third-party monitored a way as possible.

While the point of this article is good, the article itself does not properly address the risks inherent in nuclear power. The repeated comments about reactors that are "adequately prepared" or "underprepared" imply a safe standard that does not exist. There is no such thing as a safe nuclear plant. You are dealing with forces difficult for any human to understand. This is not a technology that has any place here. It can not be safe. The potential for destruction from radioactivity is completely unacceptable.

Rather than continuing to push a dangerous technology, nuclear companies should transition their models and begin development of wind, solar and geothermal projects.

MichaelOct 18 2011 09:21 AM

Nuclear energy is historically the safest, the most reliable as well as one of the cleanest means of producing electricity. Shutting nuclear power plants down will result in more fossil fuel use, increasing air pollution, impacting the lives of millions of people. Trading certain major injury from fossil fuel use for a remote chance of minor injury from a nuclear power plant seems like a bad choice.

jason@ solar panelsOct 18 2011 11:04 AM

Sorry Michael, but the risk of fallout from a nuclear accident far outweighs that of fossil fuel usage, especially when alternative energy sources can be found and used, from wind farms to solar panels.

I don't live in New York or, in fact, in America, but I do live relatively near to a nuclear plant in the UK - and am not happy about it, especially when a nuclear accident elsewhere raises public awareness. It's so easy to put it to the back of your mind but it's there nonetheless!

ConsiderOct 18 2011 03:21 PM

There is nothing "minor" about "injury" from nuclear accidents. It is also not a "remote chance". Every nuclear plant ever built has leaked radiation into the earth, water or atmosphere (and then of course, there are the inevitable disasters). Nuclear is not a clean fuel (just examine the mining to start). There are many better options, including wind, solar, geothermal and non-dam hydro (such as tidal, water-wheels and flowforms).

MichaelOct 19 2011 12:48 PM

I actually live within 10 miles of the longest running nuclear power plant in the USA and breath much easier because of it. There has never, in over 40 years of operation, been a single casualty from radiation from a commercial nuclear power plant. Just last year there were several people killed from gas explosions and coal mine incidents. The particulates from fossil fuel use make it more difficult to breath, these are the actual facts, not postulated worst case scenarios.

NickOct 19 2011 04:15 PM


Evacuated Tube Transportation Technology (ET3) is the ultimate solution to getting our planet on a path to sustainability. Forget High Speed Rail (HSR) and Oil Pipelines. ET3 is the future of transportation.

Our vision is "Space Travel on Earth" where lightweight car sized capsules accelerated by electric power coast on maglev in an automated global tube network without air friction. 350mph ET3 costs less than roads and can achieve up to 4000mph with proven technology. NY to LA in 45 minutes. D.C. to Beijing in 2 hours. An open consortium of licensees collectively owns this IP.

I would like to show you the latest Peer Reviewed Article on ET3 from the March 2011 Journal of Modern Transportation for more details about the technology. Also please visit for basic info and visuals.

ET3 is an amazing alternative to HSR. We are so close to the next Quantum Leap in Transportation. The United States should lead the way on ET3 instead of spending billions of dollars on old technology. We have evidence that China is secretly testing this technology as we speak and has a 6+ year head start which makes this a National Security issue as well.

ET3 is the MOST GREEN AND MOST PROFITABLE technology in the world. Nothing will end the use of fossil fuels faster than ET3. I can not stress enough the importance of its speedy development in saving the environment, quickly correcting our path towards sustainability, plus the economic benefits would be enormous.

ET3 is faster than jets yet can accomplish 50 times more transportation per kWh than electric cars or trains at 1/10th the cost. It uses 1/20th the amount of materials to build than HSR and is insulated from hitting people, animals, or being effected by bad weather. ET3 is fully automated and free of human error.

ET3 will not ruin prime farmland with noisy trains. ET3 is silent. Sound does not travel in a vacuum. Tractors can pass under the ET3 Tubes and the system would be able to save 95% of the land that HSR would ruin. Farmers would be compensated for the traffic that passes over their land, quite possibly more profitable than the crops that they grow. Plus, they can get their produce to markets much faster, cleaner, and at a fraction of the price. Can't do that on the current passenger HSR train plans.

The problem we have had so far is getting government permitting because ET3 is an 'unproven' mode of transportation. It is a bit of a Chicken and Egg scenario. We have investment firms that have given us letters of commitments for up to $600,000,000 dependent on government permits, but can't get the government permits until the technology is proven. ET3 could be built in California WITHOUT any public money because it is so profitable. All that is needed are the third party feasibility studies (already done in CA for HSR), government approval, and the right-of-ways.

All of the major hardware and software used in ET3 is already in use today. The most important licensees are already in place such as the maglev, tube, and vacuum pump manufactures. ET3 is shovel ready to many degrees. Of course, the exact ET3 routes have to be planned, but the technology and science behind it is proven and patented.

It would be my pleasure to setup a conference call the NRDC with key ET3 licensees to best discuss the history of Evacuated Tube Transport, our global vision, and the important role you could play in the development of ET3.

Warmest Regards,

Nick Garzilli

P.S. - You can contact on Facebook or Twitter.

ConsiderOct 19 2011 04:18 PM

The statement that "there has never, in over 40 years of operation, been a single casualty from radiation from a commercial nuclear power plant" is not true. One only has to look to the obvious nuclear disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima to see direct deaths from "radiation from a commercial nuclear power plant", both from acute poisoning and long-term effects. There can be no underestimating the danger of nuclear radiation. It is hard to account for the effects from increased levels of radiation from continual leaks, routine releases, mining, insufficient storage and transportation. Every step of nuclear power is damaging, not to mention the devastating effects of (what will continue to be) inevitable disasters. Some things are just not worth the risk.

Yes, fossil fuels also have negative effects, and that is why the options already mentioned: wind, solar, geothermal and non-dam hydro power need to be further implemented.

wayne gambelOct 20 2011 10:25 AM

"that that an accident on the scale of Fukushima could send a fallout plume south to the New York metro area, requirin......."
Believe me, if a Fukushima event happens in nyc area, any damage caursed by the nuclear plant will seem incidental.

Jamie ClemronsOct 21 2011 01:27 PM

It would be much cheaper and safer in the long run if we start the switch to clean energy now instead of waiting around for the next melt down. Nuclear is an accident waiting to happen. Solar panels and Wind farms do not create 100 square mile unlivable areas when they fail. There have been way too many near misses in our country already. You just never hear about them because the mainstream media is in cahoots with whoever pays them the most money and there is big money in nuclear.

SC GreenOct 21 2011 05:15 PM

Please see what we are trying to do about San Onofre, right behind Indian Point in terms of population at risk and many other safety problems.

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