Gov. Andrew Cuomo has spent the past year walking a fine line between environmentalists who believe nuclear power is a necessary evil in reducing the state's carbon dioxide emissions and those who think the plants pose too great a danger. But, Cuomo is no stranger to this kind of juggling act on nuclear policy.
When the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant experienced a recent oil leak that could have made its way into the Hudson River, Cuomo seemed to fall into what's become a standard routine: issue a statement, visit the plant and express grave concern about Indian Point's continued operation.
"This plant, since 2011, there have been over 40 extraordinary incidents," Cuomo said. "We have had tritium leaks, we have had steam leaks, we have had a fire in a transformer, we’ve had turbine failures, pump failures, weld failures, high levels of radioactivity in groundwater. So, this plant is no stranger to dangerous situations."
Cuomo is correct. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has placed Indian Point under increased oversight because of the number of safety incidents at the plant. Yet when the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Oswego County leaked oil into Lake Ontario earlier this summer, there was no visit from Cuomo, no discussions of the danger of keeping the plant online. In fact, spokespeople for the three upstate nuclear power plants say the governor has never visited their facilities over a safety matter.
"When it comes to policy, these plants are not being treated equally and that’s informed by the governor’s politics," said Scott Waldman, a reporter with Politico New York.
Waldman has covered Cuomo on energy matters for years and he says the governor's stance on nuclear is more about politics than policy.
"I certainly think he’s trying to maximize the votes he gets from both pools," Waldman said. "You're going to lose a lot of votes if you let a major employer in upstate New York shutter its doors, and I think he's going to get a lot more votes in Westchester County calling for the closure of the plant [Indian Point]."
However, in the process of juggling upstate and downstate constituencies, Cuomo is also splitting his own party. Several downstate democrats have criticized the nuclear subsidies and called on the state to reassess the plan.