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What you need to know for 01/23/2017

One plan for Schenectady's nuclear reactor: Disguise it as a lighthouse

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One plan for Schenectady's nuclear reactor: Disguise it as a lighthouse

The Galesi Group’s plan to revitalize the former Alco site in Schenectady includes disguising a smal
One plan for Schenectady's nuclear reactor: Disguise it as a lighthouse
The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics Program's L. David Walthousen Reactor Laboratory began operating in 1964 and is located on the former Alco site between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River in Schenectady.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

The Galesi Group’s plan to revitalize the former Alco site in Schenectady includes disguising a small nuclear reactor operated by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as a lighthouse.

The vacant industrial site, now called Mohawk Harbor, will be transformed into a waterfront community with apartments, hotels, retail, a possible casino and a nuclear reactor — lighthouse, that is.

“We are factoring it into our development,” said David Buicko, chief operating officer of the Galesi Group. “We will dress it up and make it look good.”

The reactor has been on the site since the 1950s and is used by students enrolled in RPI’s nuclear engineering program for research and training. The facility is only capable of producing 10 watts of electricity.

It is unclear if RPI plans to decommission the facility, called the L. David Walthousen Laboratory. Instead, the college said it has been working with the Galesi Group to incorporate the reactor into its development plans.

“Rensselaer continues to work with the [Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority] and the Galesi Group on the development of a concept plan and site features for the proposed economic development project,” RPI said in a statement. “This includes ideas for how to integrate the architecture of the Walthousen Laboratory into the overall architecture and aesthetic of the site.”

The Galesi Group is partnering with Rush Street Gaming of Chicago on a $300 million casino project, Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor. The casino would be paired with a 150-room hotel and banquet facility.

The Rotterdam developer is also charging forward with its original plans for the site — before a casino came into the picture — that includes apartments, condominiums, townhomes and office and retail space.

Details of the casino proposal were released Thursday by the state Gaming Commission. In the Schenectady application, renderings of what the 60-acre site would look like post-construction did not include the reactor or the lighthouse.

Buicko said some renderings include the reactor-turned-lighthouse, while others do not. The Gaming Commission simply got the rendering without it. He added that RPI is still evaluating whether to shut down the facility.

“It is not a critical part of our project; it has nothing to do with the casino,” he said. “If they dismantle it, we will just be putting something else in there, like retail, restaurants or additional housing.”

Galesi Group is aiming to start construction eight months after selection of a casino license by the Gaming Commission’s Facility Location Board in the fall. Construction would be done in three phases, taking a total of between three and five years to complete.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said the site would be better off without the reactor, even if it is masked as a lighthouse. He said he believes the long-term goal is to get rid of the facility.

“I want it decommissioned and taken off the site,” McCarthy said. “The process for decommissioning those things is a multi-year undertaking, with an emphasis on ‘multi.’ The appropriate thing at this point would be to get it out of there.”

Three years ago, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed RPI's license to operate the reactor through 2031. There are 31 research and test reactors in operation across the country, and RPI's facility is the only one left in New York state.

If the reactor were ultimately masked as a lighthouse, it wouldn’t actually light the lighthouse.

“A light that’s turned on in one of the apartments on site would probably be more than what that facility generates,” Buicko said. “If it stays there, we are going to just make it look good and incorporate it into our design.”

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