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“Shut it down! Shut it down! Shut it down!” rang through the cavernous grand ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, NY, last week when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staged an Orwellian charade promoted as an “open house” held to reassure the public that the Indian Point nuclear power plant was, as the New York Post headlined the following day, “Still Safe!”
The NRC’s annual “safety assessment” of the plant, which sits on the Hudson River 30 miles north of New York City, was based on 11,000 hours of ”inspection activities.” It found that Indian Point performed “within expected regulatory bounds” and the 25 matters that do require attention but “no additional NRC oversight,” are ‘low risk’, or have “very low safety significance.”
“So,” the Post mused, “will this finally silence the ‘shut it down’ crowd? …Don’t hold your breath.”
But do keep your fingers crossed…if you’re one of the 17.5 million people living within 50 miles of the plant…
“The NRC’s annual assessment completely fails to address the public’s primary concerns about Indian Point — evacuation planning, earthquake risk and nuclear waste storage post-Fukushima,” said Phillip Musegaas, a lawyer with Riverkeeper, an environmental group based in Ossining, NY.
Those concerns were addressed in Riverkeeper’s briefing held in the rear of the ballroom prior to the NRC’s hearing that night. Some highlights:
Manna Jo Green, a member of the town council of Rosendale and Environmental Director of Clearwater, who recently toured the plant with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board: “We are calling for expansion of the evacuation plan from 10 miles to 50 miles and hardening of the fuel pools. There is no protection for those fuel pools…You couldn’t see the fuel rods in fuel pool 2 because the water was so murky… it is so densely crowded with fuel rods, you can’t even get equipment in to fully inspect it …”
Like Riverkeeper, Clearwater in Beacon, NY has filed multiple contentions with the NRC in the legal fight to deny Entergy Corporation a 20-year license extension for Indian Point. Current licenses for the two operating reactors expire in 2013 and 2015. Relicensing hearings are expected to begin in October.
John Armbruster, a seismologist with Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, cited the study, published in 2008, that revealed there was a second fault line passing near Indian Point in addition to the Ramapo fault line.
“We believe this is a significant new development in what might happen to Indian point. We have been asking since 2008 for our new results to be incorporated into the hearings for the relicensing of Indian Point – and that has been rejected as ‘outside of scope’. What was done when Indian Point was designed 40 years ago is obsolete and Fukushima tells us we have to prepare for the things that are very unlikely.”
Peter Rugh of Occupy Wall Street’s Environmental Solidarity Work Group: “The NRC has issued untold numbers of exemptions to Indian point – untold because they don’t keep track of the safety exemptions they grant to this corporation and to other nuclear operators. Entergy took in 11 billion in 2011 so they can afford to take every possible safety measure here, including shutting down…We want the workers at these plants to be retrained in the green energy sector. We must offer them better employment opportunities than being the gravediggers for New York City, for Westchester County, and for New Jersey.”
Paul Gallay, Executive Director of Riverkeeper, countered claims that shutting down Indian Point would cause an energy shortage and lead to blackouts. Results of a study commissioned by Riverkeeper and the National Resources Defense Council published earlier this year concluded otherwise.
“There’s enough surplus power in this region to turn off Indian Point tomorrow and we won’t have any kind of shortage if we don’t do another thing until 2020,” Gallay said. “In the meantime, you can build two Indian Point’s worth of replacement power. You can save 30 percent of our power needs just by energy efficiency… We do not need the power — they want to fool you into believing we do.”
During the open session, an NRC panel sat at the front of the room but no presentation was made to the public and no explanation of the safety “assessment” was given. NRC posters were on display in the hallway outside the ballroom, and Indian Point inspectors were available for questions. But not for answers.
Stepping up to the mike, Mark Jacobson, a co-founder of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC), asked, “Where is Entergy? Why isn’t Entergy in the room? We want to ask them questions.”
Getting no reply, Jacobson told the panel that he had questioned inspectors about the status of the radioactive leak under Unit 2’s transformer yard. “They said they didn’t know. It’s a leak that’s been likened to the size of the Central Park reservoir… and we can’t find out about it at this annual meeting. Who are we supposed to ask?”
Indian Point’s leaks are contaminating groundwater and the nearby Hudson River with radioactive carcinogens including strontium-90, cesium 137, and iodine 131.
The impossibility of evacuation in the event of an accident at Indian Point stirred the loudest protest of the night.
Citing the recent news report from the Associated Press that revised – and watered down – emergency planning and evacuation procedures had been adopted late last year without broad public input, Marilyn Elie, also of IPSEC, said, “Nobody has known about this and you dare, in post-Fukushima, you dare to weaken and have fewer evacuation drills.
“Region 1 could not even tell the commissioners this is not a good idea to secretly pass a new evacuation plan, to not let the stakeholders know…We need to call right now for a whole new NRC – all the commissioners need to be withdrawn – and it needs to go right down the line until it gets to Region 1.”
John Raymond is a freelance writer in New York City.