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The Indian Point Nukes: a Disaster Waiting to Happen

“Indian Point” is a film about the long problem-plagued Indian Point nuclear power plants that are “so, so risky—so close to New York City,” notes its director and producer Ivy Meeropol. “Times Square is 35 miles away.”

The plants constitute a disaster waiting to happen threatening especially the lives of the 22 million people who live within 50 miles from them. “There is no way to evacuate—what I’ve learned about an evacuation plan is that there is none,” says Meeropol. The plants are “on two earthquake fault lines,” she notes. “And there is a natural gas pipeline right there that an earthquake could rupture.”

Meanwhile, both plants, located in Buchanan, New York along the Hudson River, are now essentially running without licenses. The federal government’s 40-year operating license for Indian Point 2 expired in 2013 and Indian Point 3’s license expired last year. Their owner, Entergy, is seeking to have them run for another 20 years—although nuclear plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. (Indian Point 1 was opened in 1962 and closed in 1974, its emergency core cooling system deemed impossible to fix.)

At Indian Point 2 and 3 there have been frequent accidents and issues involving releases of radioactivity through the years. The discharges of tritium or irradiated water, H30, which cannot be filtered out of good water, into the aquifer below the Westinghouse nuclear plants and also the Hudson River have been a major concern.

But it’s not just Indian Point that “Indian Point” is about. The film emphasizes: “With so much attention focused on Indian Point, the future of nuclear plants in the United States might depend on what happens here.”

“I would give the film an ‘A.’ I wholeheartedly recommend it for wide release throughout the United States,” says Priscilla Star, founder of the Coalition Against Nukes: “It is a stellar learning tool. It depicts the David-versus-Goliath struggle involving those trying to close these decrepit nuclear plants and the profit-hungry nuclear industry. It shows grassroots activists fighting the time bombs in their community.”

The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. For the past two weeks it has been showing five-times-a-day at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, also in Manhattan. That run will go until Thursday, July 21. On Friday, July 22, it is to open in Los Angeles. After its theatrical release, it will air on the Epix cable TV channel.

Among those in the film are anti-Indian Point activist Marilyn Elie and long-time environmental journalist Roger Witherspoon who has written extensively about Indian Point. And also Entergy employees appear. Meeropol and her crew were given full access to the nuclear plants.

The documentary provides a special focus on Dr. Gregory Jaczko. He was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan began in March 2011. As notes Meeropol, Jaczko sought to have “lessons learned” from the Fukushima catastrophe—which involved General Electric nuclear plants—applied to nuclear power plants in the U.S. And he was given “a really tough time.” Pressure by the nuclear industry caused Jaczko, with a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to be “pushed out” as NRC chairman and member. Meeropol tells of how “this guy, a decent person trying to do his job, was completely abused.”

Meeropol, in an interview, said the NRC “is too closely linked to the nuclear industry. It’s not going to do anything that the nuclear industry regards as too costly or onerous. I want that to be one of the biggest takeaways from the film—how a regulatory body cares more about the industry it is supposed to regulate than the public. And of all industries that should be regulated, it’s the nuclear power industry.” She said she found the nuclear industry and nuclear energy officials in the U.S. government “one and the same.”

Meeropol began the “Indian Point” film project in January 2011. She had moved from Brooklyn up to the Hudson Valley “a decade ago when our son was born. Commuting in and out of the city on the Metro-North train, I went right past the plants. They looked so foreboding and odd there in that beautiful landscape.”

Also, until she, her husband and son moved upstate, “having lived in New York City, I had no idea how close they were to the city.”

Further, in the community where they went to live, Cold Spring, 15 miles from the plants. “we could hear the [emergency] sirens” from the plants and she was unsettled receiving in the mail an “emergency preparedness booklet titled: ‘Are You Ready?’”

So the experienced filmmaker started doing research on the “dangerous endeavor of making nuclear energy.” With the Fukushima disaster beginning just a few months after she started on the film, that “broadened” its perspective.

She said the films she has made have always been “character-driven” and she was attracted to feature in “Indian Point” Marilyn Elie—“she knows her stuff”—and Roger Witherspoon. “I liked his dynamic. He is a journalist. She is an activist.” She stressed to Entergy officials that she would be even-handed “and quite amazingly was given access” to the plants. Her connecting with Jaczko was crucial. It “became my crusade to redeem Greg Jaczko before the world.”

She started making the film on a shoe string. “I ran out of money numerous times.” But she was able to get financial support from the Sundance Institute, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Catapult Fund, and individual contributions. And “partnering” with Julie Goldman, founder of Motto Films, was extremely important. Goldman is also producer of “Indian Point.” A “very generous grant” was received from the MacArthur Foundation which also “opened up other doors.”

The avidly pro-nuclear New York Times (its pro-Indian Point editorials never cease and its last reporter who long covered the plants and the nuclear industry has now gone on to a job with the PR arm of the industry) said in its review: “’Indian Point’ is a good overview of the issues, with insights into the problems of regulating the industry.” It complained about Meeropol’s being “steadfast in providing both sides.”

Meanwhile, Indian Point sits there on the Hudson, continuing with accidents and in emitting what the NRC says are “permissible” levels of radioactivity. They are highly likely candidates for a Chernobyl or Fukushima-level catastrophe in the most highly populated area of the United States. And the NRC, steadfastly ignoring Jaczko’s warnings, in league with Entergy, seeks to let the decrepit time bombs run for another 20 years—just asking for disaster.

The good news is that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been endeavoring to have the Indian Point nuclear plants closed and safe-energy activists and an array of environmental and safe-energy organizations are working hard to shut them down—and the film “Indian Point” is out.

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Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

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