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CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y.—New York’s latest proposal to save Hudson River fish from being sucked into the Indian Point nuclear plant calls for shutting down one of the region’s largest power producers for up to three months a year — during air-conditioner season.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation says it offered the summer shutdown as an alternative because plant owner Entergy Nuclear has balked at the idea of building cooling towers. A final decision could be two years away.
Entergy and supporters of the plant say a seasonal closing at Indian Point would be ludicrous, threatening the reliability of the electrical grid, dampening economic development and increasing air pollution.
“I thought it was a joke, somebody trying to be funny,” said Westchester County Legislator John Testa, whose district includes the plant in Buchanan, 35 miles north of Manhattan.
Testa spoke during a hearing this week — on a hot day, in a comfortably air-conditioned room — to the administrative judges who will make a recommendation to the DEC commissioner.
At issue are the permits Entergy needs to use Hudson River water — as much as 2.5 billion gallons a day — to make steam and cool the reactors. The company is hoping to win new 20-year federal licenses for the two units and could smooth the way with state permits.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposes the new licenses, saying it’s unsafe to have a nuclear plant in the densely populated New York City suburbs. About 17 million people live within 50 miles of the plant.
Anxiety about Indian Point climbed after the 9/11 attacks, when one of the hijacked planes flew over the plant on its way to the World Trade Center, and again after the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami.
Matthew Cordaro, who headed an agency that oversaw the power distribution for several states in the Midwest, said, “I’m sure the nuclear industry is watching this carefully. … The economic operation of Indian Point could be seriously affected.”
Under the proposal, one or both of the reactors at Indian Point would be closed for a period of 42 to 92 days every year between May 10 and Aug. 10, a period chosen to correspond with the migration and spawning of several major Hudson River fish species.
Peak demand last year and this year came in July, according to the Con Edison utility.
The state estimates that more than a billion organisms, including fish eggs and larvae, are killed at Indian Point each year, either from being sucked into the plant or from coming up against the screens that are designed to keep fish out.
Partial outages would “reduce, and in some instances minimize, the adverse environmental impact” of Indian Point, the DEC says.
Before offering the alternative, the DEC said Indian Point could operate legally for the next 20 years only if it converts to a water-recycling system known as closed-cycle. But Entergy said it would cost more than $1 billion to build the necessary cooling towers.
Fred Dacimo, an Entergy vice president, said at the hearing, “There is no credible science that Indian Point damages fish populations.” But Entergy has proposed its own remedy — a new, more sophisticated system of screens at the river intake.
State Assemblywoman Sandra Galef told the judges they should accept Entergy’s plan for screens, then analyze it to see if it’s working. Closing the plant, which has about 1,000 fulltime workers, would disrupt the local economy, she said.
Several speakers alleged that the summer shutdown proposal was a smoke screen from those who want the plant closed for good.
“It’s more of a roundabout way to try to affect the closing of Indian Point more than to really worry about fish spawning,” Testa said.
The Hudson’s best-known environmental group said even a 92-day closing wouldn’t go far enough to protect the denizens of the river.
“Our position is the length of outage has to give the same protection to the fish species in the Hudson as a closed-cycle cooling system would,” said Phillip Musegaas, an attorney with Riverkeeper. “The only way to do that is the 92-day outage plus another 26-day outage in the winter because there are other fish species that migrate and spawn in the winter.”
Musegaas also said there’s enough power to meet New York’s demand even without Indian Point. To say otherwise, he said, is “the worst kind of fear-mongering.”