Workers are removing 12-foot high assemblies of uranium fuel rods at Indian Point power plant and placing them into a cooling pool that doubles as a radiation shield. Each assembly costs $1 million, holds 204 fuel rods and 49,000 uranium pellets, each pellet the energy-producing equivalent of a ton of coal.
As workers position the assemblies with a hand-controlled pulley, a blue glow comes over the water, what happens when electrically-charged particles move through water faster than the speed of light. It’s called Cherenkov’s radiation for the Russian scientist who discovered it back in 1934 and has been likened to the sonic boom that occurs when a plane exceeds the speed of sound.
Unit 3 was in operation for 453 consecutive days since its last refueling.
The fuel rod transfer is a $100 million refueling that has become an annual rite of spring at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, which has two reactors. The used and spent fuel assemblies will soon take their place beside hundreds of others, remnants of four decades’ worth of energy to homes in Westchester County and New York City.
With Indian Point slated to close in 2021, there are just two more refueling events scheduled for the power plant along the shores of the Hudson River in the Westchester County village of Buchanan.
Local businesses have come to rely on the refuelings for an annual infusion of cash.
Entergy announced in January that it would shut down operations at Indian Point, an outcome long sought by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who questioned whether the densely-populated towns and cities near the plant could be evacuated in the event of a mishap. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino criticized Cuomo for moving ahead with a plan to shut down Indian Point without considering the economic fallout for the region.
The closure of Indian Point will take away more than 1,000 high-paying jobs, more than $30 million in local tax revenues generated by Indian Point, and more than $1.3 billion in local economic output.
The refueling will recharge Unit 3, one of Indian Point’s two working reactors, shutting it down while technicians drain water and inspect for deficiencies like worn bolts and, when that’s done, inserting enough new fuel assemblies to keep the reactor going another two years.
For the five or six weeks the project is underway, the towns around Indian Point get their own jolt, in the form of economic activity. When the reactor shuts down, Indian Point’s 1,000-person workforce doubles as an army of out-of-state workers — carpenters, electricians, steamfitters, ironworkers and others — floods into the lower Hudson Valley. Restaurants, hotels, shops all see a bump in revenue.
A 2012 study by the Business Council of Westchester estimated that the plant’s total payroll is $130 million. It paid another $75 million in annual property taxes and made charitable contributions of $2 million that poured into local communities.
Nearby municipalities estimate they could lose $32 million. The village of Buchanan predicts it could lose $3.5 million annually, nearly half its budget.
The Hendrick Hudson School District could be left with a $20 million hole in its $75 million budget in the coming years. The district currently receives a $23.3 million Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). But the PILOT payment will be reduced to $2.3 million three years after Indian Point shuts down. (Lower Hudson News, 3/30/2017)