The permanent shutdown of the Indian Point 3 nuclear reactor on April 30 means that for the first time since 1962, no reactors are operating within 100 miles of New York City.
Only one new U.S. plant is under construction, a still-incomplete project of 15 years costing $28 billion. No others are planned, and Indian Point 3 marks the 12th reactor shut in the past eight years, with more to follow. Removing reactors means removing a health threat, as studies show declining cancers in local children soon after shutdowns, and declines for adults over time.
A half century ago, the idea of a nuclear-free New York seemed unlikely. The Atomic Energy Commission predicted that by now, 70% of U.S. electricity would be generated by over 1,000 reactors. Utilities, encouraged by politicians in both parties, scrambled to prepare proposals.
Ideas swirled for new reactors in and around New York City, ideas that today would be considered dangerous to millions. Locations included underground reactors at Central Park and Roosevelt Island; Ravenswood, Queens; Bayonne, New Jersey; a man-made island off Brooklyn; City Island, near the Bronx; Connecticut’s Long Island Sound waterfront; and Long Island
Most proposals never went beyond the drawing board. The proposed Ravenswood reactor, just across the East River from the United Nations, evoked protests from concerned citizens and even opposition from the usually supportive Atomic Energy Commission, due to the proximity of the most densely populated area in the nation. The project was dropped in 1964.
The Shoreham reactor took two decades to build, with staggering cost overruns, as warnings from state regulators to forbid operation were ignored, as evacuation after a meltdown was impossible. When Shoreham was ready, Mario Cuomo’s administration did not budge. The unused buildings still stand, and construction costs included in Long Island electric bills.
Just five reactors ever operated within 100 miles of Manhattan; all are now permanently closed. The prediction of over 1,000 U.S. reactors never materialized; only 128 ever operated, and that number is now 93 and falling. Lenders, hit with huge construction cost overruns, stopped new orders in the late 1970s.
Reactors are expensive for a reason – because they are dangerous. Containing radioactivity is a complex process, requiring large numbers of specialized personnel, extensive systems of mechanical parts, and frequent accuracy checks. Aging and corroding parts leak more. Security became expensive, especially after revelations of Al-Qaeda’s plans to crash a plane into U.S. reactors on 9/11; one of the attacking planes flew directly over Indian Point.
A closed Indian Point still requires managing the huge amount of toxic waste for thousands of years. However, shutdown reduces health threats. There will be no catastrophic core meltdown like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima; and radioactive waste, some of which is released to the environment, will cease.
Contentions that nuclear power is a needed part of our energy mix are misguided. Numerous countries and U.S. states never had reactors in the first place. Some countries, like Germany and Switzerland, are phasing out reactors. Japan, which had 54 operating reactors before the 2011 Fukushima meltdown, now has nine in operation; most of the others will never re-start.
Where does the replacement electricity come from? Last year, renewable sources like solar and wind power exceeded the nuclear share by reaching 21%; this number will soar to 42% by 2050, while the nuclear portion declines to about 15%. States like Kansas and Iowa already get about half of their electric power from renewables. Wind and solar pose no health risk – and cost less.
The end of the nuclear power era in the New York metropolitan area is also the start of a new and more permanent era, one that removes a major public health risk at a lower cost.
Vogtle (Georgia) project to build a new nuclear plant.
Jacob B. Vogtle Units 3 & 4 (VCM 23): Six more months, $700 million more dollars. “Now, more than a decade later, the project originally projected to cost $14 billion and be complete by 2017, has seen costs nearly double and schedules delayed by more than 5 years.” December 23, 2020. https://cleanenergy.org/blog/vogtle-units-3-4-vcm-23-six-more-months-700-million-more-dollars/.
Journal Articles on Local Cancer Reductions After Nuclear Reactor Closing
Mangano JJ, Gould JM, Sternglass EJ, Sherman JD, Brown J, McDonnell W. Infant death and childhood cancer reductions after nuclear plant closing in the United States. Arch Environ Health. Jan-Feb 2002;57(1):23-31. Doi: 10.1080/00039890209602913. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12071357/.
Mangano JJ, Sherman JS. Long-term local cancer reductions following nuclear plant shutdown. Biomed Intl. 2013;4(1). http://www.bmijournal.org/index.php/bmi/article/view/115/.
Estimate of Over 1,000 U.S. Nuclear Reactors by 2000
Seaborg GT, Chairman, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The plutonium economy of the future. Remarks, Fourth International Conference on Plutonium and Other Actinides, Santa Fe NM, October 5, 1970, page 7. http://fissilematerials.org/library/aec70.pdf.
“By the year 2000 the Gross National Product will approximate $3 trillion. We hypothesize some 1.1 billion kilowatts of nuclear capacity at that time generating slightly less than 7 trillion kilowatt-hours annually. This represents about 65% of the operating capacity (exclusive of reserves) and 70% of the electrical· energy needs of the country at that time.” (The number of over 1,000 reactors is calculated by dividing 1.1 billion kilowatts by 1,000 megawatts, the typical size of a U.S. reactor. The number 1,000 reactors is frequently cited).
Location of New York- area reactors that ever operated/U.S. reactors that have shut down Indian Point 1,2, and 3 – Buchanan NY – (closed 1974, 2020, and 2021)
Oyster Creek – Forked River NJ – (closed 2018)
Connecticut Yankee – Haddam CT (shut 1996)
U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nuclear Reactor Shutdown List. https://www.eia.gov/nuclear/reactors/shutdown/.
(Note: does not include Indian Point 2 – 3)
Proposed NYC-area nuclear plants
Bird D. Nuclear plant proposed beneath Welfare Island. The New York Times, October 7, 1968, p. 1. (Roosevelt Island).
Mohr C. Con Ed withdraws its bid to construct atom plant in city. The New York Times, January 7, 1964, p. 1. (Ravenswood)
Anonymous. Thirty pickets protest plans for Queens atomic plant. The New York Time, November 12, 1963, p. 55. (Ravenswood).
Spiegel I. Atom plant fight pushed in Queens. The New York Times, January 5, 1964, p. 96. (Ravenswood protest).
McFadden RD. Bayonne may get atomic plant. The New York times, March 13, 1971, p. 58 (Bayonne).
Smith G. Con Ed seeks to build 2 islands for nuclear power plants here. The New York Times, April 2, 1970, p. 1. (off Coney Island, Brooklyn).
Witkin R. Optimism of experts grows for jetport-at-sea here. The New York times, October 17, 1971, p. 74 (Jetport with reactors in NYC area).
MacGowan C. 38 years after massive protest, Shoreham nuke plant sits empty. Newsday, June 3, 2017.
93 U.S. reactors currently operating in U.S.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. List of power reactor units. Last updated August 27, 2020. https://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/list-power-reactor-units.html.
(Note: Indian Point 3 and Duane Arnold are now shut down).
Al-Qaeda plans to attack U.S. nuclear plant
9/11 Commission. The attack looms (Chapter 7), p. 245. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/911report/documents/911Report_Ch7.pdf.
“Atta also mentioned that he had considered targeting a nuclear facility he had seen during familiarization flights near New York – a target the referred to as ‘electrical engineering.’”
Germany and Switzerland phase-out of nuclear reactors
World Nuclear Association. Nuclear power in Germany. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-g-n/germany.aspx.
BBC News. Switzerland votes to phase out nuclear power. May 21, 2017. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39994599.
Japan’s number of operating nuclear reactors, early 2011 (54) and 2021 (9)
Nippon.com. Japan’s nuclear power plants in 2021. March 31, 2021. https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h00967/.
Kansas and Iowa % of electricity by source
Choose Energy. How is your electricity generated? April 2021. https://www.chooseenergy.com/data-center/electricity-sources-by-state/.
Percent of U.S. electricity from nuclear vs. wind/solar
Energy Information Administration. EIA projects renewables share of U.S. electricity generation mix will double by 2050. February 8, 2021.