NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James recently took action to ensure the safe, rapid, and thorough decommissioning and site restoration at Indian Point Energy Center (IP), a nuclear power facility located in the Hudson Valley slated to end all power generation next year. Attorney General James filed a petition to intervene in the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) proceeding concerning the transfer of IP to subsidiaries of the nuclear services firm Holtec International for decommissioning.
In the petition, Attorney General James underscores the State’s support for “prompt, thorough, and safe decommission and site restoration” at Indian Point, but expresses serious concerns that that Holtec fails to “possess the financial qualifications necessary to complete such a risk-intensive project.”
“It is essential that the decommissioning of Indian Point be safe, rapid, and complete,” said Attorney General James. “Putting the decommissioning of Indian Point in the hands of a company with no experience and uncertain financial resources is very risky. I am committed to ensuring that New York is granted full participation in this application proceeding and all other decision-making related to Indian Point’s decommissioning.”
In 2017, the owner of IP – Entergy – agreed to close the two remaining operating units at the site. On January 23, 2020, the NRC announced that it was considering approval of an application by Entergy to transfer the IP license to Holtec for decommissioning.
Decommissioning, which involves radiological clean-up and dismantling a nuclear facility is extremely demanding both technically and financially. NRC requires that nuclear facilities establish and maintain a trust fund to pay for facility decommissioning – the IP fund has been capitalized by New York ratepayers through their electricity bills. The Holtec entities propose to seek NRC approval to use the trust, not only to conduct decommissioning, but also to fund site restoration and spent fuel management activities.
In January 2020, Holtec published a cost estimate for decommissioning, site restoration, and spent fuel management at the IP facility of $2.3 billion. However, Holtec represents that the value of the IP trust fund as of October 2019 was “approximately $2.1 billion” – which the State points out is a roughly $200 million shortfall in funding for decommissioning.
In the petition, Attorney General James expresses a number of substantial concerns about Holtec’s financial qualifications, which are necessary to complete the safe, timely, and full decommissioning of IP. The Attorney General argues that it would violate NRC rules for the Commission to approve a license transfer when there is currently a $200 million shortfall in the trust fund. In addition, Holtec’s cost estimates for decommissioning rely on “a series of unreasonable assumptions” that appear to underestimate those costs and threaten the companies’ ability to complete the necessary work on time and within budget. This is of particular concern because the Holtec subsidiaries have no resources beyond or independent from the trust fund and have failed to establish their financial qualifications to cope with a shortfall in the fund.
Today’s petition is just the latest action Attorney General James has taken to hold the NRC and Holtec accountable. On January 17, 2020, Attorney General James led a coalition of 12 states in supporting Massachusetts’s challenge to the NRC’s approval for the transfer of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s license to Holtec without affording Massachusetts a hearing to address its significant concerns about Holtec’s ability to successfully oversee the facility’s decommissioning. The coalition’s amicus brief; filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, argues that the NRC’s failure to hear from Massachusetts before approving the license transfer violates NRC rules, and the federal Atomic Energy and Administrative Procedure Acts.
“I have long called for the decommissioning of Indian Point and while I am pleased that day is finally drawing near, we must be sure it is done in the safest way possible,” said U.S. Representative Eliot Engel. “Putting this job in the hands of a shaky company is asking for trouble. I applaud Attorney General James for taking action to ensure this process is done in a thoughtful manner with the greatest possible care.”
“The health and safety of Hudson Valley families relies on the safe dismantling of Indian Point. We cannot afford – and will not tolerate – mistakes,” said U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney. “I fully support Attorney General James’ petition to intervene with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceedings, and continue to call on the Commission to hold a public hearing before transferring the license to Holtec. Public safety is key – and we need to be assured safety comes first.”
“Indian Point is being decommissioned because of the dangers it poses to millions of people in the region, but the decommissioning process itself can pose risks if not done properly,” said State Senator Jen Metzger. “New York State Attorney General Letitia James has rightly intervened based on justifiable concerns about Holtec’s qualifications and plan for decommissioning, and I applaud her efforts to ensure that this process occurs in the safest possible manner.”
“At the Indian Point Energy Center, nothing less than a perfectly planned, expertly managed and entirely safe decommissioning of the two extant nuclear reactors will do,” said State Senator Pete Harckham, Member of the Senate’s Energy and Telecommunications Committee, and in whose Senate District the nuclear power plant is located. “Nuclear energy has been produced on this site for nearly sixty years, so contamination of the environment is a distinct risk if dismantling the reactors is mishandled. In this regard, I appreciate Attorney General James’ insistence that the state have a say in which firm is tapped for decommissioning.”
“Thank you to Attorney General Tish James for her efforts to ensure New York is granted full participation in all decision-making related to the decommissioning of Indian Point,” said State Senator Shelley B. Mayer. “I share Attorney General James’, and others’, concerns regarding Holtec’s lack of financial preparedness and track record to complete the decommissioning process safely and with accountability. I also thank advocates for leading the fight on this issue.”
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to give New York State a seat at the table while it reviews Entergy’s decision to hand off decommissioning Indian Point to a firm with questionable experience,” said State Assembly Member David Buchwald. “Residents of the lower Hudson Valley need to have confidence that the firm handling the Indian Point decommissioning can meet the highest safety standards.”
“As a member of the environmental committee and a resident of the lower Hudson Valley, it is critical that Indian point be decommissioned in a manner that does not harm residents,” said State Assembly Member Ellen Jaffee. “Holtec International has not adequately guaranteed it will decommission Indian point safely and with minimal environmental and financial impact. Allowing Holtec to move forward with its decommissioning plan will put residents at risk and costs the taxpayers more. Think, too, of the environmental impact Holtec’s decommissioning plan will have on a region already contaminated with nuclear waste. I thank Attorney General James for her diligence in ensuring that Indian point is decommissioned safely and to the satisfaction of residents.”
“Thanks to Attorney General James for having the backs of Westchester residents by making sure Holtec has a viable plan in place and is held accountable,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer. “All of Westchester County, from Cortlandt to Yonkers, stands to be greatly impacted by the Indian Point decommissioning process and this move by the Attorney General brings the resources and expertise of the State to this high-stakes proceeding.”
This matter is being handled by Attorney General James’ Environmental Protection Bureau by Assistant Attorneys General Joshua M. Tallent and Channing Jones, and Deputy Bureau Chief Lisa M. Burianek, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, all under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.