Gone Fission: Controversial nuke plant near NYC shuts down

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A turbine generator used to produce power is seen at Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y., Monday, April 26, 2021. Indian Point will permanently stop producing nuclear power Friday, capping a long battle over a key source of electricity for nearby New York City that opponents called a safety threat to millions in the densely packed metropolitan region. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

BUCHANAN, N.Y. – Indian Point will permanently stop producing nuclear power Friday, capping a decades-long battle over a key source of electricity in the heart of New York City's suburbs that opponents have called a threat to millions living in the densely packed region.

The retirement of the Indian Point Energy Center along the Hudson River could increase New York's short-term reliance on natural gas plants, despite the state's goal of reducing carbon emissions. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others who fought for its shutdown argue any benefits from the plant are eclipsed by the nightmare prospect of a major nuclear accident or a terror strike 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the city.

“There are 20 million people living within 50 miles of Indian Point and there is no way to evacuate them in case of a radiological release. And the risk of that is quite real,” said Paul Gallay, president of the environmental group Riverkeeper.

The actual shutdown will be straightforward: a control room operator for Indian Point’s Unit 3 will push a red button to shut down the reactor Friday night. It will complete a contentious closing of the plant's two reactors years in the making.

The Unit 2 reactor shut down exactly a year ago under a 2017 agreement among the Cuomo administration, Riverkeeper and the plant’s operator, Entergy Corp. Unit 3's shutdown under the same agreement paves the way for a decommissioning that is projected to cost $2.3 billion and take at least 12 years. The tall twin domes visible from the river will eventually be demolished.

The two reactors, which went online two years apart in the mid-’70s, had generated about a quarter of the electricity used in New York City and the lower Hudson Valley.

They also generated controversy.

Environmentalists faulted the plant for killing fish by taking in massive amounts of river water for cooling. Critics said the plant was antiquated and pointed to a safety history that included faulty reactor bolts and radioactive tritium detected in groundwater onsite.