The human health and climate change impacts of the premature closure of Indian Point nuclear power plant
“This is the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.” ― President Franklin D Roosevelt, 1933
Dear Elected Official,
We are writing to you to discuss the impact of closing Indian Point nuclear power plant on climate change and the health of New York City residents. Due to the massive increase in electricity generation from fossil fuels necessary to replace the power produced by Indian Point, New York State is taking a giant leap backward. This is contrary to the urgent climate and community goals spelled out in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). We appreciate all your hard work to safeguard our health and the sustainability of our planet. We know how much you care that the air we all breathe becomes cleaner, not dirtier.
We are a growing number of your constituents and friends who have become aware of this issue and are working to inform others. We are mothers and brothers, academics and activists, engineers and environmentalists, entrepreneurs and unionists. Atmospheric CO2 levels reached 417 parts per million (ppm) this spring, a level unseen for four million years. Methane has risen to near 2ppm – equivalent to another 160ppm CO2. We love our neighborhood, our State, and our country. We are doing everything we can to ensure a livable planet for our children and grandchildren. There could not be more at stake here, as we know you recognize.
In this letter, we outline the impact of electricity generation mix shift over the next few years.
Electricity Generation Mix Shift
Looking beyond bold proclamations, we analyzed reports from New York’s wholesale electricity regulator (NYISO), giving full credit to all planned solar and wind developments in the region (on-grid plus rooftop solar). In the ‘Lower Hudson Valley’ region (including Westchester county and NYC) rooftop solar contributed a mere 1.3% of electricity despite federal and state subsidies for solar and wind (Figure 1). To meet electricity demand over the next few years, fossil-fuel plants in the Metro NYC area will need to ramp up by a third. Including new Hudson Valley fossil plants built to replace Indian Point, the fossil fuel share of regional electricity generation will go from 57% in 2018 to 86% by 2022. Growing opposition to large-scale deployment of land-intensive energy sources and transmission bottlenecks are likely to prevent upstate renewables from reaching Metro NYC. This means that NYC fossil fuel takeover will not be short-lived.
Fossil plants in Queens and Manhattan are the cornerstone of NYC electricity (Figure 2). These plants operated at 22% and 41% capacity, respectively, in 2019, leaving ample room to burn more oil or gas as needed. Nearly all these plants are located in Environmental Justice areas, next to public housing projects with low-income residents who have neither the privilege nor the resources to influence decision-makers in Albany. Known for its “asthma alley,” Astoria and Long Island City have the highest air pollution in NYC. We urge you to act on this environmental racism.
In April 2020, New York shut down Indian Point Unit 2. The two units at this plant accounted for over a third of regional power generation and 84% of carbon- and particulate pollution-free electricity (Figure 1). Closing half this plant removed more carbon-free electricity than the annual generation of all wind and solar facilities statewide. Instead of using renewable generation to close inner-city fossil power plants like Ravenswood, the state wants to shut down Indian Point Unit 3 next year, handing the market share of regional power generation to fossil fuel interests.
The closure decision was made without evidence-based impact analysis or input from affected communities, but at the behest of special interest groups. Indian Point has a multi-decade record of safety; nuclear energy is the safest source of reliable electricity and has the lowest ecological footprint of all energy sources (including wind and solar). Though some groups continue to push for Indian Point’s closure, it will increase annual greenhouse gas emissions by 12 to 15 million tonnes CO2e (GWP20). All the 1.5°C scenarios identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show nuclear generation increasing (over 2 to 6 times by 2050). Nuclear energy can play a critical role in avoiding climate catastrophe, if only we listen to science.
Health Impacts of Particulate Pollution
Particulate pollution, which travel for tens of miles once airborne, poses the greatest threat to global life expectancy. Recent research from Harvard University found that a mere 1μg/m3 increase in particulate pollution elevates COVID mortality by 8%. Counties within Metro NYC lead the nation with the highest COVID deaths (#2 Queens with 5,999, #3 Kings with 5,662, #5 Bronx with 3,996, and #9 New York County with 2,534 as of September 9, 2020).
“We absolutely need to close fossil-fuel power plants first,” says Dr. James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute and lead climate scientist with Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “If New York cares about people and Environmental Justice, then it should shut down Ravenswood and other power plants like it instead of Indian Point.”
We implore you to raise this critical issue with Governor Cuomo, the New York Climate Action Council, and the Public Service Commission and to support continued generation of Indian Point’s clean energy until Metro NYC fossil plants are shut down. Indian Point safely operated at a historic 91% capacity factor in 2019 and is fully permitted by the NRC to operate until 2024 to 2025. The only thing preventing Indian Point from helping to close fossil fuel plants in Environmental Justice areas is the lack of political will. We can prevent this entirely self-inflicted disaster. It is the right choice for New York City and our planet.
Nuclear New York
Footprint to Wings
Citizens’ Climate Lobby – New York
Mothers for Nuclear
New York Energy & Climate Advocacy
Protect Orange County
Doctors for Nuclear Energy
U.S. Climate Coalition
Californians for Green Nuclear Power
Citizens’ Climate Lobby Colombia