Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff approves Indian Point sale to Holtec
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s staff has approved the sale of the Indian Point nuclear power plant to Holtec, despite the objections of New York state officials who fear the New Jersey firm does not have the financial backing to finish a teardown of the plant.
The recommendation gives the five-member commission that oversees the NRC until Nov. 23 to object. If it doesn't, Indian Point’s owner, Entergy, will be allowed to transfer its license to Holtec.
NRC staff also approved Holtec’s request for an exemption to use a portion of $2.1 billion set aside for the plant’s decommissioning to manage spent nuclear fuel housed in dozens of cement-and-steel canisters that will remain on the 240-acre property after its April 2021 shutdown.
In February, New York Attorney General Letitia James called the Holtec deal “very risky.”
And in documents filed with the NRC last month her attorneys said the exemption will eat into money that should go toward dismantling the plant’s three reactors and demolishing the buildings that house them.
“We reiterate our chief concern that NRC approval of the license transfer and exemptions will place the fate of the Indian Point facility, its attendant regulatory obligations, and the $2.1B held in trust in the hands of undercapitalized limited liability shell corporations with no tangible assets independent of the $2.1B trust, and lack of demonstrated decommissioning experience,” the attorneys wrote in an October letter to the NRC.
Nuclear power plant operators are required to invest ratepayer money in trust funds to cover decommissioning costs when a plant shuts down.
Holtec, based in Camden, New Jersey, has promised to do the job in 12 to 15 years, shaving decades off a typical decommissioning. It has estimated the cost at $2.3 billion, roughly the amount in the trust funds at the end of September.
The state estimates that the trust funds, which totaled $2.18 billion at the end of 2019, lost $210 million between October 2019 and March, due to “coronavirus-related market losses."
The work would be done by a Holtec subsidiary, Comprehensive Decommissioning International, and would begin after the plant shuts down in April.
The NRC has already approved Holtec’s purchases of the Oyster Creek and Pilgrim nuclear power plants in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Holtec says it has the “financial and technical qualifications” to carry out each decommissioning.
Only one of Indian Point’s two working reactors are operating. The Unit 2 reactor was shut down in April.
The Hudson River environmental group Riverkeeper, as well as the village of Buchanan, the town of Cortlandt and the Hendrick Hudson School District have each voiced objections to the sale.
In an October letter to the NRC, Riverkeeper cited New Jersey court documents suggesting Holtec is in “financial distress” due to an investigation into how it secured a $260 million tax credit from the state’s Economic Development Authority to build a warehouse and headquarters in Camden.
“If the tax credit is not restored, Holtec’s future financial position may be significantly damaged,” Riverkeeper attorney Todd Ommen of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic writes. “Holtec itself states that it will be ‘significantly harmed on an annual basis’ if NJEDA reverses its tax credit approval.”
Holtec sued the development authority over the disputed tax credit in March.
Holtec spokesman Joe Delmar said the company is awaiting the formal decision from the commission.
"We remain committed to our ongoing efforts to engage officials at the state and local levels as well as other stakeholders, so we can ensure the safe and prompt decommissioning of Indian Point if Holtec becomes the owner," Delmar said.
The municipalities and schools stand to lose $28 million in annual property tax revenue after the shutdown, losses that are likely to lead to deep cuts in their budgets.
New York's Public Service Commission, which oversees the state's electric industry, is also looking at the proposed sale. Entergy has asked the commission to approve the license transfer or declare that the commission does not have jurisdiction over the transfer.
"The PSC continues its review of the proposed sale to Holtec to ensure the transaction is in the public’s interest," spokesman James Denn said.
On Monday, several of New York’s federal lawmakers, including Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, sent a letter criticizing the NRC for not holding hearings ahead of a decision on the license transfer.
“As federal lawmakers, we assert it was not Congress' intent when drafting the NRC's statutory authority for the NRC to keep communities in the dark, in this case for over nine months, after requesting a public hearing and seeking to intervene in a significant licensing proceeding such as this," they wrote.
The NRC will decide whether to give the state, Riverkeeper and the others an opportunity to air their concerns after a license approval.
A spokeswoman for James said the office is "reviewing the recommendation to the commission" and remains "committed to fighting to ensure a safe, complete, and prompt decommissioning of Indian Point."
Indian Point began generating electricity for Westchester County and New York City in 1962, when it was owned by ConEd.
Reporter Thomas C. Zambito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @TomZambito. Read his latest stories.