The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave its stamp of approval in November to the transfer of ownership of the Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan from its current owners, Entergy Corp., to Holtec International, a privately owned global firm primarily focused on nuclear waste management and decommissioning.
The sale has been in the works since April 2019, when Entergy and Holtec struck the initial bargain. Following the final shutdown of Indian Point’s third reactor in April 2021, Holtec will begin the process of decommissioning the plant and beginning the process of reclaiming the land for public use, a process Holtec claims it can accomplish in as little as 12-15 years—much quicker than the 60 years originally estimated by Entergy and the NRC.
“We found out that the 240 acres could not be developed by Entergy and the NRC until the plants are decommissioned, up to 60 years,” says Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi, citing research conducted by the organizations along with the Indian Point Task Force, an expert panel including both 30-year town supervisor Puglisi and Village of Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker.
“The sale of Indian Point following its permanent shutdown will benefit the community by enabling the facility to be removed and the site remediated decades sooner than otherwise thought possible,” says Entergy Chairman and CEO Leo Denault.
Many Westchester locals, however, are not gung-ho about the deal. Hudson River advocates Riverkeeper says the organization “is extremely troubled” by the news, claiming the NRC rubber-stamped the deal despite “the numerous serious concerns raised by local, state, and other interested groups.”
Riverkeeper likewise calls into question the “integrity, experience, and financial stability,” of Holtec, citing previous documents it filed with the NRC over the company’s handling of a nuclear plant in Oyster Creek, NJ and the loss of a $260 million New Jersey tax credit that could seriously hamper Holtec’s ability to complete the decommissioning process at Indian Point.
New York Attorney General Letitia James herself called the deal “very risky,” with attorneys from her office writing to the NRC that “the license transfer and exemptions will place the fate of the Indian Point facility, its attendant regulatory obligations, and the $2.1 billion held in trust in the hands of undercapitalized limited liability shell corporations with no tangible assets independent of the $2.1 billion trust, and lack of demonstrated decommissioning experience.”
“Holtec was the sole company that Entergy gave to the NRC to consider,” says Puglisi. “In the town we’d have to do a bid. Entergy — private company, private sector — didn’t have to do that.” She also freely admits, “There’s only a handful of companies in the country that do dismantling.”
Holtec International Senior Director of Government Affairs & Communications Joe Delmar is, understandably, much more optimistic. “Indian Point’s decommissioning trust funds are currently valued at $2.3 billion, which is sufficient to cover the cost of completing Indian Point’s decommissioning.”
“In addition, the NRC previously approved license transfers for the shutdown [of] Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey from Exelon to Holtec and for the shutdown [of] Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts from Entergy to Holtec,” he says. “With these approvals, the NRC confirmed that Holtec met the regulatory, legal, technical, and financial requirements to merit qualification as the successor licensee of these plants.”
As far as meeting Indian Point’s rather lofty budget and timetable goals, Delmar contends, “Both Oyster Creek and Pilgrim decommissioning projects remain on schedule and continue to meet all NRC requirements including maintaining the proper funding in their respective decommissioning trust funds to safely complete decommissioning.”
In a statement released by Director of Communications Jerry Nappi, Entergy also confirms the $2.3 billion trust funds balance as of September 30, having recovered from the pandemic’s economic downturn. “In its decision, the NRC determined that Holtec possesses the required technical and financial qualifications to decommission Indian Point safely and in accordance with NRC requirements.”
Town Supervisor Puglisi may have the most concrete attitude on the deal. “Reality hits. It’s closing. Definitively. [We] have already met with representatives of Holtec over the last year and a half. They’ve been invited to our task force meetings. April 2021 is around the corner.”