Small modular reactors (SMRs) are nuclear generating units that are about the size of railroad cars and provide about one-tenth to one-fourth the power of full-size reactors. As a result, they...
Indian Point and the battle for the nation’s energy future.
needs. The centerpiece of these efforts is the Power NY Act of 2011, Article X, a new power plant siting law that streamlines the state approval process of facilities of at least 25 MW. 23 State officials estimate that the new law will enable developers to shorten approval times to no more than 12 months—compared to the historic average approval process of 3 to 5 years—which theoretically would facilitate installing the capacity needed to replace IPEC before 2015.
Nevertheless, the net impact that Article X will have on the lower Hudson and NYC supply areas remains uncertain. 24 Article X’s utilization is still contingent on the environmental impacts of any proposed facility—meaning that per-se approval within 12 months isn’t guaranteed. Perhaps more significantly, the ability to actually develop new capacity in lower New York state remains constrained by a lack of natural gas transmission infrastructure. In order to accommodate up to 2,000 MW of new gas-fired generating capacity, either new interconnections with the Algonquin pipeline, or new trunk lines carrying Marcellus gas, will be required. Already a number of natural gas infrastructure projects are being developed in New York state and neighboring New Jersey, but none of these existing projects is being built in anticipation of a future without IPEC online. Because IPEC is a source of baseload power within the NYISO region, a firm supply of natural gas will be needed to assure grid integrity. Due to the uncertainty surrounding IPEC’s future, the strategic planning needed for an accurate forecast of natural gas supply into the LHV and NYC areas has been limited.
The Broader Horizon
Despite the uncertainty that characterizes Indian Point’s environmental situation, the case serves well to highlight issues and stimulate thinking on the wider questions facing America’s nuclear industry.
The NRC recently granted approval to construct a new nuclear plant—the first such approval issued since 1978. 25 Yet America’s nuclear fleet is aging rapidly.
In endeavoring to answer how our nation will meet its future energy demands, analyzing the environmental attributes of nuclear power seems to be a necessary progression. And as for Indian Point, where the discussion arguably is limited primarily to the Clean Water Act, the conflation of federal preemption issues and broader economic concerns only adds to the intrigue.
Whatever the result, when a final conclusion on IPEC is reached, the policy landscape surrounding nuclear power will be a telling indicator of how the nation’s energy future will unfold.
1. Indian Point Units 2 and 3 are pressurized water reactors with a combined net capacity of 2,158 MWe. The facilities are located on the east bank of the Hudson River in the Village of Buchanan, Westchester County. In 2007, NYSDEC filed a petition letter to the NRC stating that IPEC’s continued operation is untenable to New York State and that the facility shouldn’t be relicensed. See New York State Dept. of Env. Conservation, Notice of intention to participate and petition to intervene, Nov. 30, 2007.
2. Atomic Energy Act of 1954, 68 Stat. 919, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2011-2284, 1982.