Nuclear Power and New York City: Columbia’s Forum on the Environmental Consequences and Catastrophic Risks of Indian Point

By: Andrew Kirchner

7th April 2012


I.  Introduction

The Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant located just thirty-four miles from New York City in Buchanan, New York, has recently been the subject of intense debate.  In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, many fear that Indian Point could cause similar devastation if an accident or terrorist attack occurred at the plant.  The environmental issues associated with Indian Point, such as the large quantity of water it draws from the Hudson River to operate its cooling system, have caused further public concern.  To that end, New York State’s Department of Environment Conservation (DEC) denied Indian Point’s joint application for Clean Water Act section 401 and 6 NYCRR Parts 608 and 621 water quality certifications in 2010.[1]  Entergy Corporation, the operator of Indian Point, requested and was granted an adjudicatory hearing to challenge the denial.[2]  Entergy is also petitioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to relicense Indian Point for an additional twenty years of operation.[3]  DEC has intervened in the NRC relicensing proceedings to suggest that, for a litany of reasons ranging from radioactive releases to heated water, Indian Point should not be relicensed.[4]  A wide variety of citizens’ groups have also united to fight the relicensing of Indian Point.[5]

The future of Indian Point has divided New Yorkers, who are concerned about the reliability of their electrical power, the price of that power, the greenhouse gas emissions from the generation of power, and the 1,100 skilled jobs that Indian Point currently provides, in addition to the issues stated above.[6]  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has publicly supported the relicensing of Indian Point,[7] while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for Indian Point to be shut down.[8]  To drum up support for the plant, Entergy has hired former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to act as a spokesman.[9]

On March 1, 2012, the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School hosted a forum on the future of Indian Point.[10]  Paul Gallay of Hudson Riverkeeper and Ashok Gupta of Natural Resources Defense Council spoke in opposition to Indian Point.  Arthur “Jerry” Kremer of the Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York) and John Kelly, the former Director of Licensing at Indian Point, spoke in support of relicensing the plant.  Michael Gerrard, the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice and Director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, moderated the panel discussion at the forum.  This Field Report will review and analyze the claims made during the forum, and ultimately highlight the conclusion that the Indian Point Energy Center presents serious risks that must be addressed before the plant is relicensed.

II.  Environmental Risk

Perhaps the main technical obstacle for Entergy’s Indian Point relicensing bid will be the tremendous effect the plant is having on the Hudson River’s aquatic ecosystem.  Indian Point draws as much as 2.5 billion gallons of water from the Hudson every day.[11]  In its certification denial, DEC ruled that the use of water for cooling purposes at Indian Point kills too many fish and contaminates too much water to be worthy of federal or state Clean Water Act certifications.[12]  Indeed, the Indian Point water intake system kills nearly a billion aquatic organisms a year, including the endangered shortnose sturgeon, by sucking these organisms into the plant’s machinery (entrainment) or by trapping them against intake screens (impingement).[13]  The cooling system also negatively impacts millions of fish in the Hudson River by returning used water to the Hudson at a much higher temperature, causing behavioral changes, growth impacts, and death.[14]  Mr. Gallay highlighted these points at the forum.[15]

Without the proper federal and state water quality certifications, the NRC cannot relicense Indian Point.[16]  Therefore, unless DEC reverses its position, it appears that Entergy will be faced with the tremendous cost of converting to a closed-loop condenser cooling system, which would enable Indian Point to receive the needed certifications.  However, converting Indian Point’s cooling system “would cost $1.1 billion and would require shutting both reactors down entirely for 42 weeks.”[17]  This point was made by way of rebuttal to Mr. Gallay’s comments at the forum, along with the point that the closed-loop cooling system would require two structures the size of football stadiums, which could be a siting issue at the plant.[18]

Adverse effects from the cooling system are not the only environmental impact that Entergy must address.  The DEC’s notice of intervention in the NRC relicensing process revealed that “[r]adionuclides are leaking into the groundwater and into the Hudson River from the aging structures of Indian Point.  Amongst others are strontium-90 and tritium, radioactive substances that have been linked to various forms of cancer.”[19]  There is precedent for attempting to decommission a nuclear power plant because of leaks like the one mentioned in the DEC intervention notice.  Entergy’s Vermont Yankee Plant was set to be shut down after the Vermont State Senate voted overwhelmingly in February to veto operation of the plant after 2012, in part because of leaking radioactive tritium.[20]  However, Entergy successfully sued to block operation of the Vermont law that gives the state the power to veto the relicensing of a nuclear power plant.[21]  The state has appealed to the Second Circuit.[22]

III.  Catastrophic Risk

Lurking below the technical debate about impingement, entrainment, and radionuclides is the ever-present fear of an accident at, or attack on, the Westchester facility.  This fear may be driving the debate about Indian Point.[23]  As one former member of the NRC put it:


The Chernobyl accident was dismissed in Western countries on the grounds that it was the product of Soviet sloppiness and “couldn’t happen here.”  But the Fukushima accident involved reactors built to American designs.  The essential characteristic of this technology is that the reactor’s uranium fuel-about 100 tons in a typical plant-melts quickly without cooling water.  The containment structures surrounding the reactors-even the formidable-looking domes at Indian Point-were not designed to hold melted fuel because safety regulators 40 years ago considered a meltdown impossible.[24]


In the event of a major disaster at Indian Point, the population of New York City could be at significant risk.  After the Fukushima disaster, high levels of radioactive cesium were found at “hot spots” in Tokyo, which is roughly 160 miles from the Fukushima plant.[25]  The U.S. Embassy and the NRC recommended a fifty-mile evacuation zone after the Fukushima disaster,[26] yet the NRC currently only requires a ten-mile evacuation plan for Indian Point, as Mr. Gallay of Riverkeeper frequently noted.[27]  Were there to be a similar event at Indian Point, Mr. Gallay suggested that 5.6 million people would have to shelter in place or evacuate the area entirely, and if that event was on the same order of magnitude as Chernobyl, there would be a seven percent increase in cancer among eighteen million people.[28]  Raising similar issues as those discussed by Mr. Gallay, one 2004 study concluded that a major radioactive release at Indian Point could eventually kill as many as 500,000 people.[29]  These numbers are particularly frightening in light of the fact that accidents have occurred at Indian Point in the past.  For example, a steam generator tube cracked on February 15, 2000, allowing a small amount of radiation to escape.[30]

A seismic event is also a prominent concern, especially given that in August 2011 a 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia was felt across New York.[31]  Commenting on this concern, Mr. Gallay focused on the fact that in the 1970s the Indian Point authorities assumed that New York would never experience worse than a 3.0-magnitude earthquake.[32]  According to Mr. Gallay, Entergy once stated that it could handle up to a 5.0 magnitude quake, but it changed its estimates during the NRC relicensing and now claims that Indian Point can withstand a 5.5 or 6.0-magnitude quake.[33]  Mr. Gallay contended that there is no proof Indian Point could survive a quake over 5.0.[34]  Lending support to Mr. Gallay’s concerns, the NRC has stated that Indian Point reactor number three is the most susceptible to an earthquake of any nuclear power reactor in the country.[35]  According to the NRC, the risk of damage to that reactor from an earthquake is approximately “1 in 10,000 each year,” based on an August 2010 NRC study and U.S. Geological Survey data from 2008.[36]  However, the NRC’s study of Generic Issue 199 (GI-199), “Implications of Updated Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Estimates in Central and Eastern U.S. for Existing Plants,” determined that though seismic risk may have increased from previous estimates, all nuclear plants in the United States remain safe from seismic activity, and no immediate action is necessary.[37]

In response to these concerns, John Kelly, a former Entergy employee, emphasized the structural integrity of Indian Point.  He made specific reference to the fact that an airplane crash could not penetrate the containment walls of the two Indian Point units, as demonstrated by crash testing that had been conducted on similar structures.[38]  He also noted that the Fukushima disaster was not caused primarily by the earthquake, but rather by the subsequent tsunami flooding, something that is not a risk at Indian Point.[39]  However, Mr. Gallay was quick to point out that it would be possible to crash a plane into the spent fuel pools, which contain roughly five times more radiation than the containment center.[40]  Because no final disposal site has yet been approved for the spent fuel, decades worth of radioactive material is stored in these “temporary” storage pools.[41]  The DEC has sided with Mr. Gallay’s position, stating:  “However implausible it may be that this radioactive waste [in spent fuel pools] is exposed and unsecured, that is the case at Indian Point.  It is also vulnerable to attack.  The State of New York contends analysis of this issue must be done as part of this application [to the NRC for relicensing].”[42]

Were there to be a catastrophic event at Indian Pont, many believe that the emergency measures in place would prove inadequate.  Mr. Gallay noted that the main firefighting waterline in the Village of Buchanan has never been earthquake tested, and that there are 150 instances at the plant where Entergy admits that it does not meet federal fire safety laws.[43]  Indeed, for many years, the NRC granted exemptions to Indian Point, allowing Entergy to successfully avoid compliance with these safety measures.[44]  This resulted in litigation against the NRC and a petition from the New York Attorney General for enforcement action against Entergy.[45]  The NRC has recently backtracked from its previous lax standards, denying forty-two of the fifty most recent exception requests for Indian Point fire safety.[46]

Another essential element of safety that has been called into question is Indian Point’s evacuation plan.  Witt Associates, a company headed by a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, conducted a detailed analysis of the evacuation planning for the plant in 2003, at the behest of then-Governor George Pataki.[47]  The company’s report “concluded that the plans were drafted to comply with regulations rather than to create an effective strategy to protect the population, and that they assumed people would comply with government directives rather than do what seemed to be in their own best interests.”[48]  DEC, citing the Witt Report, agreed that the plans had overlooked many basic elements that any sound plan would include, especially “the possible ramifications of a terrorist-caused event.”[49]  Despite these concerns, Entergy insists that it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in safety, and Mr. Kremer was quick to point out that of the 104 nuclear power plants in the United States, Indian Point is the most frequently inspected.[50]

The legal tides of this debate are beginning to shift to favor the opponents of Indian Point.  In 2006, the Ninth Circuit overruled the NRC’s blanket refusal to consider the environmental impacts of a potential terrorist attack at a spent fuel facility and power plant under the National Environmental Policy Act, ruling that the possibility of a terrorist attack was not too remote to warrant consideration.[51]  The Ninth Circuit reasoned that “in light of the NRC’s recent comprehensive efforts to assess potential terrorist threats to various nuclear facilities and to protect against potential attacks, it was unreasonable for the NRC to declare that such an attack is a remote and speculative possibility.”[52]  Therefore, the Ninth Circuit held that the Environmental Assessment was “inadequate as a matter of law.”[53]  However, the Third Circuit has recently taken a contrary position.[54]

IV.  Conclusion

At the forum, Jerry Kremer referred to an incessant campaign of “no, no, no” and “fear, fear, fear” that has been waged against Indian Point, and stated his belief that the concerns surrounding Indian Point are an example of a “campaign of misinformation.”[55]  If the risks of Indian Point are to be fully considered in a public debate, it must be with a view towards the future of energy in New York State.  The opposition to Indian Point should not simply stop at opposing or defeating its precarious siting, but rather must be solutions-oriented.  Remedies exist for most, if not all, of the current problems at Indian Point, and Entergy should be accountable for each of these improvements.  If it is willing to bear the cost and is capable of making the plant objectively safe, Indian Point should be given a fair shot at twenty more years.  If it attempts to cut corners, the NRC should take heed and refuse to relicense the operation.  In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the horrors of a nuclear accident are too apparent to leave the fate of New York City to chance.



[1].Letter from William R. Adriance, Chief Permit Adm’r, N.Y. State Dep’t of Envtl. Conservation, to Dara F. Gray, Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. (Apr. 2, 2010), available at; see also 33 U.S.C. § 1341 (2006).

[2].Letter from Elise N. Zoli, Goodwin Proctor LLP, to William R. Adriance, Chief Permit Adm’r, N.Y. State Dep’t of Envtl. Conservation (Apr. 29, 2010), available at; Entergy Indian Point Unit 2, LLC and Entergy Indian Point Unit 3, LLC, DEC Application Nos. 3-5522-00011/00030 and 3-5522-00105/00031 (Dec. 13, 2010), (ruling on proposed issues for adjudication and petitions for party status).

[3].Entergy Seeks 20-year License Renewal for Indian Point Energy Center, Indian Point Energy Ctr. (2006),
entergy-seeks-20-year-license-renewal-for-indian-point-energy-center.html; see also Indian Point Nuclear Generating Unit Nos. 2 and 3 – License Renewal Application, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n (Mar. 29, 2012),
applications/indian-point.html#public (providing a timeline of the ongoing Indian Point relicensing process).

[4].N.Y. State Attorney Gen., New York State Notice of Intention to Participate and Petition to Intervene (2007), available at

[5].IPSEC Member Organizations, Indian Point Safe Energy Coal., (last visited Mar. 31, 2012).

[6].A Positive Economic Impact, Indian Point Energy Ctr.,
community_planning/economic-impact.html (last visited Mar. 31, 2012).

[7].Bob Hennelly, Bloomberg Backs Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, WNYC (Mar. 18, 2011),

[8].Danny Hakim, Cuomo Takes Tough Stance on Nuclear Reactors, N.Y. Times, June 28, 2011, at A1, available at

[9].Thomas Kaplan, Giuliani Ads to Promote Safety of Indian Pt., N.Y. Times (Oct. 5, 2011, 4:52 PM),

[10].Ctr. for Climate Change Law, Center for Climate Change Law Holds Forum on Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (Mar. 2, 2012),

[11].Indian Point Nuclear Facility Units 2 and 3 – Water Quality Certification, N.Y. State Dep’t of Envtl. Conservation, (last visited Mar. 31, 2012).

[12].David M. Halbfinger, New York Denies Indian Point a Water Permit, N.Y. Times, Apr. 4, 2010, at A1, available at


[14].DEC Position on Indian Point Relicensing, N.Y. State Dep’t of Envtl. Conservation, (last visited Mar. 31, 2012) [hereinafter DEC Position on Indian Point Relicensing].

[15].Paul Gallay, President, Hudson Riverkeeper, Panel Discussion at the Center for Climate Change Law Forum on Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (Mar. 1, 2012) (recording available at

[16].See 33 U.S.C. § 1341 (2006); see also Halbfigner, supra note 12 (“Ms. Screnci, the spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the commission was ‘a ways away from reaching a decision on whether to renew the license.’  But she added: ‘It’s my understanding that the law says that this certification must be in place for us to renew the license.  So we’ll be watching to see what occurs in the meantime.'”).

[17].Halbfigner, supra note 12.  See generally Enercon Services, Inc., Engineering Feasibility and Costs of Conversion of Indian Point Units 2 and 3 to a Closed-Loop Condenser Cooling Water Configuration, (2010), available at (study of conversion of cooling system prepared for Entergy).

[18].John Kelly, Director of Licensing (Retired), Indian Point Energy Center, Panel Discussion at the Center for Climate Change Law Forum on Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (Mar. 1, 2012) (recording available at

[19].DEC Position on Indian Point Relicensing, supra note 14.

[20].Halbfinger, supra note 12.

[21].Entergy Nuclear Vt. Yankee, LLC v. Shumlin, No. 1:11-cv-99 (jgm), 2012 WL 162400, at *2 (D. Vt. Jan. 19, 2012); see also Matthew L. Wald, A Judge Rules Vermont Can’t Shut Nuclear Plant, N.Y. Times, Jan. 20, 2012, at A14, available at

[22].Don Kreis, Vermont Yankee and the Rule of Law, Vt. L. Sch. (Feb 28, 2012),

[23].Governor Cuomo has referred to Indian Point as a “catastrophe waiting to happen.”  Nitasha Tiku, With Japan in Crisis, Cuomo Renews Calls to Close Indian Point, N.Y. Mag. (Mar. 17, 2011),; see also Victor Gilinsky, Op-Ed., Indian Point: The Next Fukushima?, N.Y. Times, Dec. 17, 2011, at A25, available at

[24].Gilinsky, supra note 23.

[25].Hiroko Tabuchi, Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo, N.Y. Times, Oct. 15, 2011, at A1, available at

[26].Amanda Cox et al., The Evacuation Zones Around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, N.Y. Times (Mar. 25, 2011),
japan-nuclear-evaculation-zone.html; Rita Rubin, Nuclear Crisis Puts Evacuation Zones Under Scrutiny, U.S.A. Today (Apr. 1, 2011),

[27].Paul Gallay, Climate Change Panel, supra note 15.


[29].Edwin S. Lyman, Union of Concerned Scientists, Chernobyl on the Hudson?  The Health and Economic Impacts of a Terrorist Attack at Indian Point Nuclear Plant 5-6, 17 (2004), available at

[30].Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n Office of the Inspector Gen., NRC’s Response to the February 15, 2000, Steam Generator Tube Rupture at Indian Point Unit 2 Power Plant, Case No. 00-03S, at 2 (2000), available at

[31].5.8 Quake Hits Va.; Felt Along U.S. East Coast, CBS News (Aug. 23, 2011, 2:05 PM),

[32].Paul Gallay, Climate Change Panel, supra note 15.



[35].Bill Dedman, What Are the odds?  US Nuke Plants Ranked by Quake Risk, MSNBC (Mar. 17, 2011, 3:13 AM),
t/what-are-odds-us-nuke-plants-ranked-quake-risk/#.T1RLn3LLwqQ; see also Memorandum from Chairman Patrick Hiland to Brian W. Sheron in re Safety/Risk Assessment Results for Generic Issue 199 (Sept. 2, 2010), available at

[36].Dedman, supra note 35.

[37].U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n, NRC Frequently Asked Questions Related to the March 11, 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami 5 (2011), available at (see answer to question 18).

[38].John Kelly, Climate Change Panel, supra note 18.


[40].Paul Gallay, Climate Change Panel, supra note 15.

[41].Id.; N.Y. State Attorney Gen., supra note 4, at 5.

[42].DEC Position on Indian Point Relicensing, supra note 14.

[43].Paul Gallay, Climate Change Panel, supra note 15.

[44].Douglas Feiden & Brian Kates, Indian Point’s Gotten a Free Pass on Safety Regulations over Last Decade, Feds Delay Evacuation Plan, N.Y. Daily News (Mar. 27, 2011),

[45].See Brodsky v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n, 578 F.3d 175 (2d Cir. 2009) (asking for review under the Hobbs Act of order of NRC granting exemption to certain fire safety regulations).

[46].Petition of New York State Attorney Gen., In re: Petition for Enforcement Filed by the Attorney General of the State of New York for Enforcement Action Against Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. (Indian Point Unit, Indian Point Unit 2, Indian Point Unit 3) (2011) (Nos. 50-247; 50-286), available at
2011 03 28 OAG 2-206 petition re fire safety.pdf; NRC Denies Most Exemptions Sought For Indian Point Nuclear Reactors, CBS New York (Feb. 1, 2012, 9:28 PM),

[47].James Lee Witt Assocs., Inc., Review of Emergency Preparedness of Areas Adjacent to Indian Point and Millstone vi (2003), available at

[48].Peter Applebome, Fukushima, Indian Point and Fantasy, N.Y. Times, Mar. 20, 2011, at A18, available at

[49].N.Y. State Attorney Gen., supra note 4, at 7.

[50].Arthur J. Kremer, Chairman, Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York), Panel Discussion at the Center for Climate Change Law Forum on Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (Mar. 1, 2012) (recording available at

[51].San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n, 449 F.3d 1016, 1022 (9th Cir. 2006).

[52].Nuclear Energy Committee, Report of the Nuclear Energy Committee, 28 Energy L.J. 767, 781 (2007).

[53].Id. at 781-82; Mothers for Peace, supra note 51, at 1035; but see 10 C.F.R. § 50.47(a)(1)(i) (2011) (saying that emergency preparedness is generally not part of the NRC operating license renewal process).

[54].N.J. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot. v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n, 561 F.3d 132 (3d Cir. 2009); see also Sheldon L. Trubatch, Nuclear Terrorism Under NEPA:  A Meta-Legal Analysis of the Split Between the Third and Ninth Circuits, 2011 Colum. J. Envtl. L. Field Rep. 9,

[55].Arthur J. Kremer, Climate Change Panel, supra note 50.