Our answer: Shut them down

November 6, 2013

Eugene Dardenne reports on the response of activists to hearings about the storage of nuclear waste near the Indian Point reactors, just north of New York City.

DOZENS OF local activists came to make their voices heard when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hosted a hearing on October 30 in Tarrytown, N.Y., about 20 miles downriver from the two operating nuclear reactors at Indian Point. The hearing was one of 12 organized around the country--to allow public feedback to the agency's recently drafted "Waste Confidence Generic Environmental Impact Statement," according to the NRC

While the scope of the hearing was officially limited to the issue of storing nuclear waste--or, as the industry euphemistically calls it, "spent fuel"--activists refused to separate the waste issue from the potentially catastrophic problems associated with creating the nuclear reactors that create it in the first place.

While community activists have been campaigning against nuclear power at Indian Point since before its first reactor was commissioned four decades ago, the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has given a renewed urgency to the movement. The 2011 disaster in Japan was triggered when an earthquake-induced tsunami flooded and disabled the plant's backup generators, which were responsible for cooling the reactors' radioactive fuel rods.

A public hearing on the future of Indian Point nuclear plant in Tarrytown, N.Y.
A public hearing on the future of Indian Point nuclear plant in Tarrytown, N.Y.

That seismic activity could set into motion the largest release of radioactivity since Chernobyl was no surprise to activists who have long argued that nuclear power was not worth the risks. But the meltdown at Fukushima also came just three years after the discovery of the Peekskill-Stamford fault line just one mile north of Indian Point, raising the unknown stakes still higher at this nuclear plant located three dozen miles north of New York City.

ALL THIS comes as Entergy Corp., the plant's operator, awaits the NRC's response to its 2007 request for a 20-year operating license extension. If not for the movement's success in exposing the NRC's blind loyalty to the industry it purports to regulate, that renewal would have been granted long ago. Instead, politicians and judges have felt the growing pressure to ask more questions of both the NRC and the industry.

The very existence of the "Waste Confidence Generic Environmental Impact Statement"--and the public comment period that this hearing is a part of--is the result of a federal judge's rejection of the NRC's previous "Waste Confidence Rule," which was premised on the existence of a long-term storage facility for nuclear waste.

Such a facility has failed to materialize, as local residents like those of the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation have bucked industry plans.

The industry and government's failure to pawn off the nation's nuclear waste onto Native communities or into otherwise protected federal lands means that nuclear plants like Indian Point are approaching the limits of their waste storage capacity.

Without somewhere to put its waste, Indian Point will be forced to shut down its reactors and become exclusively a nuclear waste containment facility. At the moment, this appears to be the movement's best strategy for shutting down not only Indian Point, but the entire industry.

As one of the local activists put it at the hearing, "Nobody wants nuclear waste in their backyard, least of all Entergy. But they're the ones that created it, and they need to keep it. Even if that means it stays in my backyard, it's better here if it means no more waste can be generated."

Through such solidarity, by linking arms with those the industry is so eager to dump on, communities surrounding plants like that at Indian Point can halt both the movement of nuclear waste and its continued production.

For now at least, any long-term storage facility will only free up the industry to grow, and the longer it will be before nuclear subsidies get diverted to the truly green, radioactivity-free energy alternatives we need.

Further Reading

From the archives