Geriatric Nuclear Reactors Could Kill Us All
In America, you need a license to drive an automobile, to operate heavy machinery, to hunt and fish, but apparently not to run a nuclear reactor. Entergy Corp. is slated to become the first company in history to operate a reactor without a license this fall. The Louisiana-based energy corporation’s rogue reactor is located at its Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, NY—just 24 miles from Manhattan. Entergy Corp’s license to run its Indian Point 2 reactor expires on September 28. The regulations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which is charged with overseeing the civilian use of nuclear power, says it is prepared to grant the license but its hands are tied by legal challenges mounted by New York State and a federal court ruling last year. The ruling dismissed the agency’s radioactive waste management plans as inadequate.
Most of America’s nuclear plants were built in the 60s and 70s. They were given shelf lives of 40 years. It was assumed by the industry at the time of their construction that when the millennium rolled around there would be new plants up, running, and ready to replace the old fleet. But between then and now interest in nuclear power has waned due to cost and the public’s reaction to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and other nuclear calamities. Instead, the energy industry has sought to renew the licenses on the reactors they already operate, while keeping the cost of infrastructure improvements to a bare minimum. They’ve encountered little resistance from the NRC, which has approved 73 separate license renewals and only denied one single application in its history.