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THE FOLLOWING LETTER ALSO APPEARS IN THIS WEEK'S GAZETTE; it is re-printed here with the writer's permission.
December 5, 2020
To the Editor,
I’m afraid I must take exception to Deborah Milone’s letter extolling the virtues of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) approval of the sale of Indian Point to Holtec. I, along with the State of New York, many local officials, and numerous environmental organizations, strongly oppose the transfer for a variety of technical, financial, and ethical reasons.
And, Ms. Milone, I am not one who “leveled baseless charges against Indian Point’s operators,” nor am I a “self appointed gadfly.” I am a graduate nuclear engineer with over fifty years’ experience in commercial nuclear power. I supported the continued operation of Indian Point and, while it has certainly had its problems, I believe from a climate change perspective, its closure is an abject disaster. But that is not the issue at hand. Indian Point is closing and must be decommissioned.
However, Holtec is the wrong vehicle for accomplishing this effort. Despite your claim, it has neither a plan nor the proven capabilities to carry it out. Holtec has never decommissioned a large commercial nuclear plant, yet it is attempting to decommission several of them simultaneously.
There are also serious questions over whether the monies in the decommissioning fund are adequate to complete the work and, under Holtec’s corporate structure established for the effort, if the funds run short, Holtec has no obligation to complete the work with its own money. This situation was further exacerbated by the NRC’s granting Holtec the ability to use decommissioning funds for management of the plant’s spent fuel. Should all the available money be spent before completion, you and I will be left to pick up the tab.
But the greatest flaw in your argument is your undying faith in the NRC. Back in the 1960s, I sat across the table from the NRC staff as the engineer responsible for the licensing of what became the D.C. Cook Nuclear Plant in southwest Michigan. It was not a pleasant experience. They were exceptionally demanding of the applicant and often, in my opinion at the time, unreasonable in their pursuit of safety. Exactly what they should have been.
But over the years, things have changed—drastically. When the Indian Point shutdown was announced and Holtec was nominated to perform the decommissioning, I initiated my own investigation of the circumstances, appearing at the NRC hearing held in Cortlandt, discussing the situation with those who served on oversight boards for plants decommissioned in other areas, etc., etc. As a professional in the field, I was appalled. From everything I learned, the NRC has practically abdicated its role as a safety overseer. Operations that should have been closely monitored by the NRC watchdog were often left to the discretion of the contractor—and Holtec has a long history of technical and ethical lapses in its other operations. Other failures of NRC oversight were abundant.
State and local officials, as well as our federal representatives, had demanded that a public hearing be held to examine these issues before approving the transfer. The NRC cavalierly overrode that request and approved the sale regardless. Gives you a lot of confidence, doesn’t it?
Ms. Milone, we all want Indian Point to be dismantled as rapidly as possible so the site can be repurposed and once again generate tax revenue for our locality. But the overriding consideration must be safety. And I, for one, am not at all comfortable that Holtec can achieve such a safe dismantlement, nor, based on its recent performance, do I maintain a lot of faith in NRC oversight.
Similarly, we need assurance that there will be adequate contractor funds to complete the work, including all of those unanticipated situations that are certain to arise. We do not have such assurance and there is a reasonable probability that we ratepayers and/or we taxpayers will be forced to bear some portion of the cost.
Because of the arrogant manner in which the NRC approved the sale, litigation is certain to ensue, just as it has in other states. So the situation is not yet finally resolved.
And Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblywoman Sandy Galef will reintroduce bills in the 2021 legislative session to create a state oversight board for the project. In addition to state officials, local officials, representatives of environmental organizations, and local citizens will be appointed to seats on the board. While it will not have legal authority over the process, it will maintain a bully pulpit to publicly raise any questions over whether the work is being performed safely and efficiently. We should all support those bills and demand their rapid passage.
The final story has yet to be written. But no, Ms. Milone, the NRC’s approval of the sale of Indian Point to Holtec is anything but welcome news.
Sincerely, Joel E. Gingold