Here are 2004 articles, editorials, op-eds and letters about Indian Point in chronological order with the most recent first. You can also find news from 2007, 2006, 2005, 2003, 2002 and 2001. If you find an article that should be included, please send it to email@example.com.
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
For Immediate Release: Contact: Michael Mariotte, NIRS(202) 328-0002
Dec. 20, 2004 Michele Boyd, PC (202) 454-5134
NRC Move to Make Nuke Plant Licensing Hearing Secret is Illegal, Irresponsible
Staff of Nuclear Industry Regulator Seeks to Shut Out Public in Wake of Agency’s Security Lockdown
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) today asked an adjudicatory board to conduct a licensing hearing for a proposed nuclear fuel refinery under a “protective order” which, if approved, would effectively make the entire proceeding secret and closed to the public, said Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).
“This proposal is an affront to the principles of citizen participation guaranteed by law,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.
NIRS/PC have contested the application of Louisiana Energy Services (LES), a multinational consortium led by the European firm Urenco, which is seeking a permit to construct and operate a uranium enrichment plant in southeastern New Mexico. The groups charge that the company’s plans fail to meet regulatory standards in the areas of radioactive waste disposal and need for the plant, among other things.
The NRC says its motion is a remedy to a situation that has made it impossible for parties in this case to meaningfully participate: On October 25, the NRC unilaterally blocked public access to virtually all of the electronic documents posted on its Web site pending a security review “to ensure that documents which might provide assistance to terrorists will be inaccessible.” Most of these documents remain unavailable to the public.
access to essential documents, such as communications between the applicant
and the NRC, parties to the proceeding—including the State of
The NRC Staff’s rationale for making this entire licensing case secret is that in order to meet deadlines in the context of the NRC security review, parties to the proceeding must enter into a non-disclosure agreement that would allow them access to essential documents while agreeing to keep these potentially “sensitive” materials—and thus the entire proceeding in which they are considered—closed to the public.
“A real solution to the problem would be to suspend the schedule of the hearing until access to NRC files is restored, as NIRS and Public Citizen have asked the Board,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of NIRS. “Shutting the public out of the licensing process would violate NRC regulations, which require public hearings. It also would violate the public trust, which is served by open and transparent nuclear licensing proceedings. Such hearings are the major way the public can learn about the issues—such as radioactive waste disposal—that arise from the proposed construction of nuclear facilities.”
Counsel for NIRS/PC issued a formal plea to the ASLB on Dec. 15 to suspend the schedule of the hearing until access to the hearing file is restored; formal responses to this motion are due today, but the NRC staff has filed a concurrent motion to make the case confidential.
“It is inexcusable that the NRC is attempting to circumvent public scrutiny in this case, and it sets a poor precedent for future licensing actions,” added Michele Boyd, legislative director for Public Citizen. “This unjust and inappropriate request ought to be rejected outright by the ASLB.”
To read the motions of the NRC staff, as well as earlier motions by NIRS/PC, please go to www.citizen.org/cmep or www.nirs.org.
COMMENTARY-Ruminations by Rita J. King
The growth of civilization is tied to energy
I announced a moratorium on political discussions with family members
just in time for the holidays, we found ourselves conversing about other
issues. My father-in-law asked me what I learned while writing a series
of articles on the nuclear industry, and if my feelings about the industry
changed as a result.
December 10, 2004
A long-simmering dispute over the effectiveness of warning sirens for the Indian Point nuclear power plant flared up yesterday as plant officials prepared to test a system Westchester and Rockland County officials claim is broken.
At issue are the 156, 500-pound rotating sirens in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Orange counties which are to alert more than 300,000 residents of an emergency situation at the Buchanan site.
Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano said some of the sirens fail to rotate and, as a result, there are "dead spots" behind them covering entire neighborhoods. In a true emergency, he explained, these residents would have to be notified by police using bullhorns traversing every street in the affected area.
"If they don't rotate," Spano said, "half the people who are supposed to hear the sirens do not hear them. We don't have the manpower to notify them."
Dan Greeley, assistant director of fire and emergency services for Rockland County, said his agency has no way of knowing if all the sirens are working and have to send out police with bullhorns through many areas.
"We addressed this problem with the NRC and they just sent back a reply that we might as well just ask the utilities," he said.
Officials at Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns the plant, declined to comment.
Spano said Entergy should pay for a new, better working system.
"If they can advertise on the Yankee games, they have the money to fix the [expletive] sirens."
Green light for Indian Pt means less scrutiny
County News, December 1, 2004
by Rita J. King
With green safety ratings across the board for the first time, Indian Point will soon operate without intensified scrutiny by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
NRC's safety rating system is color-coded, ranging from red to yellow, then white and green.
Indian Point 2 was the first nuclear power plant in the nation to garner a red rating following a steam generator tube failure in February 2000, according to NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.
A "deviation memo" is in effect for Indian Point, Sheehan said, because of concerns raised by retired software manager William Lemanski about cable separation issues at Indian Point.
Lemanski came forward last March claiming cables were improperly separated at the facility, a condition that could jeopardize the redundancy necessary to protect the system from an emergency.
Indian Point spokesman Jim Steets said criticism about a slow response to the whistleblower at Indian Point was justified, but he explained the tardy action.
"When software is updated, anomalies come out," Steets explained.
For example, color-coding for cables has changed over time, so new software doesn't understand the terminology for older systems.
NRC inspectors worked on the perceived problem, Steets said. He interviewed half a dozen workers who deal with cables.
"To me and you, [the cables] are like hair on our heads," Steets said, referring to the sheer number and entanglement of the cables to one who isn't familiar with the path and function of each.
To those who work with the cables, he went on to say, the system is clearly labeled and understood.
The effort to trace the separation of each cable is ongoing, Steets said, and once the process is completed to the satisfaction of the NRC, Indian Point will enjoy greater autonomy and fewer specialized inspections, owing to the green safety rating. The point of cable separation is to ensure redundancy in an emergency.
On February 20, 2004, Lemanski wrote a letter to the NRC in which he noted for two years he'd been complaining to Entergy about perceived the safety concern, but was ignored.
On March 22, 2004, environmental watchdog organization Riverkeeper and two other Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC) member organizations filed a formal allegation with the NRC stating the "concerns raised by William Lemanski potentially speak to a much more extensive problem regarding improperly sorted electric cables at the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant."
Riverkeeper issued a statement earlier this year addressing the cable concern.
"The problem Lemanski has raised is similar to an industry-wide problem that was serious enough to have prompted the closure of the Maine Yankee nuclear plant in 1997. The owners of the Maine Yankee plant decided to decommission the facility after finding cable problems so abundant that correcting them would have been too expensive," Riverkeeper noted.
The NRC requires nuclear plants to separate certain cables by distance or fire barriers so that a single fire or other accident doesn't cut power to both a vital system and the equipment that's supposed to back it up in an emergency.
According to Riverkeeper, "The regulations stem from a 1975 fire at one of the Browns Ferry reactors in Alabama that burned cables for both primary and backup systems and nearly triggered a meltdown."
Mr. Lemanksi's concerns were reinforced on March 16, 2004, when the NRC issued a report that noted an incident at Indian Point 2 had revealed the agency's criteria for keeping power cables separate were not being met.
The NRC report states the event "might represent a significant degradation of plant safety."
Steets said no problems have ever been found to confirm Lemanski's belief that cable separation is problematic at the plants.
"Every cable is physically inspected," Steets said. "We're still doing that, and we're encouraged so far."
Sheehan said once the cable separation issue is satisfied, Indian Point's green safety status will kick in fully. The plants will still be subjected to a "baseline level of inspections."
"These inspections are significant," he said.
All plants should aspire to a green safety rating, Sheehan said.
"This means they're doing what we expect them to do," he noted.
Too many unplanned shutdowns or workers being exposed to high levels of radiation are two examples of incidents that might result in the loss of a green rating. In the meantime, the utility will be responsible for regulating itself in some areas formerly handled in special inspections by NRC, and the regulatory agency is relying on Indian Point employees to come forward with complains, should any arise.
"At Indian Point, we see no reluctance on the part of workers to come to us," Sheehan noted.
Steets said the public should "take comfort" from the green safety rating.
"The primary responsibility for operating plants safely rests with the utilities," Steets said.
But some experts, like David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said NRC hasn't been on top of serious accidents and incidents at other plants, Ohio's Davis-Besse, for example.
Davis-Besse is a study in what can go wrong when a utility is left to inspect itself. When asked, Sheehan said Davis-Besse had a green safety rating while a reactor head slowly corroded over the course of several years.
"The Davis-Besse plant did have green inspection findings and performance indicators prior to the discovery of the corrosion on its reactor vessel head," Sheehan said. "I would add, however, that there have been many lessons learned that have come out of the Davis-Besse experience that we have incorporated into our Reactor Oversight Process. We are constantly looking for ways to strengthen the program and believe that, on the whole, it paints an accurate picture of plant performance."
On December 4, 2001, the NRC didn't force the Davis-Besse plant to shut down, even temporarily, despite concerns about possible cracks of nozzles passing through the reactor lid. In February, the plant was shut down for routine refueling, and plant operators announced five cracks in the nozzles. A month later, NRC announced that acid had leaked from the nozzles to decay six inches of steel.
On January 3, 2003, the New York Times reported NRC's Office of Inspector General found top agency safety officials delayed shutdown because it didn't want to hurt the plant owner financially.
NRC had drafted a letter on November 16, 2001, requiring the 25-year-old Davis-Besse plant to shut down, but the Inspector General's report said the "agency backed off when plant owner FirstEnergy Corporation said such a shutdown would be costly and could cause wintertime power shortages in northwest Ohio."
According to the UCS, "less than two years after another similarly skipped inspection contributed to an accident at the Indian Point 2 nuclear plant, the NRC allowed Davis-Besse to skip the mandated 2001 year-end inspection."
Steets and Sheehan claimed NRC inspections were "robust," even when plants have a green safety rating, but UCS scoffed at the notion.
"The NRC must stop allowing plant owners to conduct fewer inspections and to defer inspections for economic reasons," UCS wrote in a paper on Davis-Besse. "It would be a huge surprise for the NRC to someday put safety ahead of financial considerations. But that's a far better surprise than the surprise from finding a gaping hole in a reactor vessel head. It's a sure bet that there are nuclear power plants operating today with safety equipment degraded by aging. Will NRC surprise these gremlins or will they surprise NRC, again?"
scrutinize emergency preparations
By Martin B. Cassidy
November 18, 2004
Communications, vaccinations and
preparedness topped the list of
residents' concerns at a meeting last night to outline the town's
emergency response plans.
Speaking at a forum convened at
Town Hall by the League of Women Voters
of Greenwich, First Selectman Jim Lash and a panel of safety and health
officials and representatives of Greenwich Hospital and the American Red
Cross discussed their efforts to develop response plans to terrorist
attacks and other potential catastrophes.
Lash said that while the safety
and health officials are working to
address every contingency they can conceive of, there are areas where it
is hard to answer questions.
"We're work together and discover
our insufficiencies together," Lash
said. "Of course we don't have an answer for everything that could
Residents asked how town officials
would work together, and aired
concerns about the town's ability to notify residents to danger, the
risk of radioactive fallout from Indian Point Energy Center, and other
Lash touted the town's plan to acquire
an emergency notification system
capable of contacting the town's residents by phone with emergency
"It would be capable of calling
thousands of phones per minute, leaving
emergency information," Lash said. "When the bad thing happens you could
customize the message to the situation."
Greenwich is awaiting a $467,000
emergency preparedness and law
enforcement grant from the state Department of Homeland Security,
Emergency Operations Management Coordinator Paul Connelly said. Other
planned acquisitions are protective equipment for emergency personnel
and live training drills and exercises.
"Isn't the town short on generators currently?" one attendee asked.
Over several years the town will
purchase high powered generators to
keep town government running amid widespread power failures and
confusion, Lash replied.
"But they cost upwards of $250,000
so in the past we haven't bought
many," Lash said. "But now we need them."
Spencer Adkins, a psychologist,
criticized the federal government's
decision to limit smallpox vaccinations only to public health and
"I grew up in a time when people
would get the vaccination," Adkins, a
Columbia University professor, said. "Why can't we decide for
Health Director Caroline Calderone
Baisley told Adkins that in the event
of a smallpox outbreak the government has a mass vaccination plan.
"You have a few days to get
vaccinated after you get exposed," Calderone
Christa Hartch, a registered nurse,
asked where to find the best
information to create a disaster plan for her family, and evacuation
plans if there were fallout from a terrorist attack at Indian Point.
In response to Hartch's question
Edward L. Wilds, the state's Department
of Environmental Protection's director of radiation said that major
fallout spreading from Indian Point, a nuclear power plant about 16
miles from Greenwich, was a remote possibility, but Stephen A. Meyers ,
a physicist in the audience said the spent fuel rods stored at the site
could cause a "doomsday scenario."
"You could have a radiation
cloud traveling hundreds of miles," Meyers
said. "There have been well-modeled studies."
Meyers, who is advising local officials
on an emergency notification
system, said that an old fashioned town-wide siren system could serve as
a back up if more high-tech methods failed.
Town officials said the siren system
would be expensive, and unpopular
because of how loud it is.
Hartch said she came to the meeting
trying to get a better sense of what
she can do to protect her family. A representative of the Red Cross
advised her to find information on disaster plans at her organization's
web site, www.greenwich.ctredcross.org.
"I think individuals need to
have a more detailed plan and get more
information from the government," Hartch said. "I want to know what I
Copyright (c) 2004, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.
This article originally appeared
Debate over future of Indian Point nuclear plants won't end overnight
is the final article in a series on the nuclear industry
by Rita J. King
While a growing cacophony clamors for the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan, many who work at the facility or live in the communities supported by it are just as fervent about keeping the source of their economic security thriving.
Nuclear power, supporters ardently argue, is a cheap, clean alternative to burning fossil fuels. But many believe the energy can come from other sources to eliminate the hazard of deadly nuclear waste and the possibility of terrorism or accidents.
Scientists and other experts in the middle of the debate study traffic, radiation plumes and escape times. But even former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) James Lee Witt, the top expert in emergency planning in the nation, was virtually ignored when he issued a litany of concerns about the emergency evacuation plans.
Other sources of concern are the age of the plants and the density of the population in the metropolitan New York City area. Combined with the threat of deliberate sabotage or malfunction, many feel the only real solution is to decommission Indian Point.
Indian Point's slogan, Safe, Secure and Vital, has been vocally challenged in board rooms, classrooms and courts. Environmentalists, legislators and concerned citizens have adopted a dark-mirror mantra of their own: Unsafe, Unsecure and Fatal.
But no matter which side is ultimately right or wrong, the fact is nobody can flip a switch and shut down a nuclear plant overnight. Many issues related to nuclear power and Indian Point have been passionately debated in a variety of forums, and now a study is being conducted so Westchester County can look at some of the practical issues of shutting down Indian Point permanently.
Indian Point Retirement Options
In 1978, the Republican majority on the Westchester County Legislature blocked a two-part referendum from appearing on the ballot. The referendum would have permitted the county to set up a utility agency, and to sell revenue bonds totaling up to three quarters of a billion dollars to fund the takeover of Con Edison's electric distribution system in the county, including Indian Point.
The following year, voters did have the opportunity to approve a county utility, but 55 percent shot it down, owing largely to the staggering price.
Now, almost 25 years later, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano is awaiting the results of a new study that will decipher some of the more pressing intricacies surrounding the permanent closure of Indian Point, such the as the cost of buying the facility from Entergy and the economic impact on local communities.
In April 2003, Spano started looking for an independent firm to study the county's options. A month later, the Boston-based firm Levitan & Associates, Inc. (LAI), a consulting firm specializing in the energy industry, responded to the call.
Tentatively entitled "Indian Point Retirement Options and Issues," the study will focus on options for closing the plant, the issue of replacement power and local economic impacts that could result from the loss the facility.
Several months into the study, LAI Vice-President and Principal Seth Parker, along with other consultants working on the project, gave a press conference at the Westchester County Center. Unlike other heavily attended meetings where emotionally charged speakers railed against emergency evacuation plans and other perceived hazards, few were scattered in the empty seats.
"Today's meeting isn't emotional, it's analytical," Westchester County Legislator Michael Kaplowitz (D) said at the time. "It's a cold, hard look at the energy market."
The $300,000 study was commissioned by the County of Westchester Public Utility Service Agency (COWPUSA).
Former Westchester County Attorney Alan Scheinkman, a consultant for the study, said the scope of the project doesn't include "evacuation plans or terror strikes."
"Those are important issues," he said, "but this study is intended to develop conclusive data in support of a rational policy decision."
Parker, interviewed this week, didn't want to say much about the report, which isn't due until the first quarter of 2005, at the earliest. He did say Westchester County only has two real options: condemnation or negotiation.
Should the county choose condemnation of the aging facility, a judicial proceeding would be required, Parker explained. Negotiation is a different matter.
"The county would have to see if Entergy would be willing to work out a deal," Parker said.
When looking at replacement power, the LAI study will focus strictly on conventional power sources, such as the viability of a natural gas pipeline, and not renewable or alternate energy. Parker said he's a "strong believer" in such sources, but the county didn't include them in the scope of the project because of funding limitations, according to Westchester's Director of Communications Susan Tolchin.
"Some people are saying shut it down, some are saying keep it open," Tolchin said. "The county executive has said we need a study to determine the effects of those decisions."
Spano has repeatedly expressed his desire to see Indian Point decommissioned. Tolchin said his feelings about the nuclear facility changed after September 11, 2001, as he supported the facility prior to that day.
The county has been swimming upstream since then. Two years ago, Spano and his colleagues from three neighboring counties, Putnam, Rockland and Orange, refused to sign off on checklists verifying emergency preparedness, believing the move would leave the FEMA no choice but to find the plans inadequate.
"We're suing FEMA," Tolchin said. "For two years, they haven't provided us with any information. FEMA now says they don't need our information to approve the plans. They hold all the cards. From our point of view, they set rules and regulations and when we didn't provide 'reasonable assurance' they broke their own regulations. We asked them to tell us why, but they haven't provided us with anything other than, 'It's fine.' We're so angry."
The federal government's management of the evacuation plan debacle embodies the frustration of legislators trying to get information.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey criticized NRC, the agency responsible for regulating the nuclear industry, on September 3, 2003.
"Once again, NRC has put the cart before the horse," said Lowey. "It took the agency less than a day to rubber-stamp approval of the emergency evacuation plans for Indian Point without an independent review. Now, it is declaring emergency response plans for all our nuclear facilities adequate before a review is complete. These kinds of presumptions and outright negligence have no place in post-September 11th security procedures."
NRC Chairman Nils Diaz sent her a letter in response. "Although the studies will not be fully completed until the fall of this year," he wrote, "it is already clear that the planning basis for off-site emergencies remains valid in terms of timing and magnitude for the range of potential radiological consequences of a terrorist attack upon the reactors or spent fuel pools."
The evacuation plans will not be included in the LAI study, but other, more tangible aspects of life near Indian Point will be put under an economic microscope.
"This is a challenging assignment," Parker said of the project.
The study will employ "sophisticated modeling," Parker said, to determine various scenarios and the ramifications of each on the local economy.
Westchester County is also trying to see if a buy-out of Indian Point might be possible.
NRC has never ordered the decommissioning of a plant, according to their spokesman, Neil Sheehan. A utility must make the decision and inform the NRC of its intentions.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute's statistics, 18 plants across the nation are either closed or in the process of closing down. Sheehan said utilities like Indian Point 1 have chosen in the past to shut down permanently for several reasons.
"Some realized they couldn't meet safety standards," Sheehan said.
But wouldn't the NRC already be aware of the failure to meet standards and force a plant to close down in the absence of volunteerism?
It hasn't happened yet, Sheehan said, although the NRC has the authority to "order a decommissioning when there's clear evidence a plant can't operate safely."
"If we saw evidence that safety standards weren't being met, we would discuss it very seriously," he said.
When the LAI study was discussed at a press conference this fall, watchdog environmental group Riverkeeper's former Senior Policy Analyst Kyle Rabin started to discuss environmental hazards, such as accidental radioactive leaks, a recent spate of unplanned shutdowns and fishkills on the Hudson River.
"Spent nuclear fuel storage is one of the greatest environmental dilemmas this country has ever faced," Rabin said.
"Nobody would deny those are terrible things," Parker said, "but they're outside the scope of our study."
"You can only cram so many factors into the bouillabaisse of decision-making," Kaplowitz said. "That's what makes this an art as much as a science."
In the Shadow of Indian Point
The "Not in My Backyard," philosophy doesn't apply to Buchanan Mayor Dan O'Neill. Now that the leaves have fallen, he can see the double domes of Indian Point from his bedroom window.
"I'm not losing any sleep worrying about it," said O'Neill, who has two children, ages 9 and 11.
When Rory Kennedy, sister of Riverkeeper's Senior Prosecuting Attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., produced a short film for HBO, "Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable," O'Neill said he was interviewed for nearly five hours.
When O'Neill saw a newspaper article in which Kennedy had been quoted with what he perceived to be an "obvious bias," he sent her, and the media, a letter demanding to be removed from her film prior to the release date.
It didn't matter at all, because Kennedy had already opted against including O'Neill in the film.
He said the film was based on "fear-mongering" and "incredible self-promotion.""The biggest challenge I face as mayor of Buchanan is correcting misinformation in the media," he said, adding the most substantial and consistent misperception is that "Indian Point is dangerous and not good for the environment."
"The idea that hundreds or thousands can die is pure nonsense," he asserted.
O'Neill doesn't want to see the local economy get crippled by the loss of the plants. The Village of Buchanan's operating budget and the Hendrick Hudson School District are largely funded by the facility.
On top of "tax rates tripling," O'Neill fears seniors would be driven from their homes, hundreds of local jobs would be lost and electric rates would skyrocket by 40 percent, in his estimation. The LAI report will likely prove these statistics fact, fiction, or in between.
"When Indian Point 2 shut down for six months in 2000, electric rates went up nearly 20 percent," O'Neill said.
Because Indian Point 3 provides the power for "all government buildings in New York City and Westchester, as well as Metro-North," O'Neill said taxes and train fares would also increase to cover the additional costs of energy on both counts.
When asked if he favored the industry simply because of the local perks or whether he sees it as an inherently positive asset, O'Neill didn't hesitate to support the construction of more plants, a project already in the works with the blessing of President George W. Bush. Indian Point's parent company, Entergy, is currently one of three groups looking to construct the new wave of American nuclear plants.
O'Neill said the burning of fossil fuels is already known for devastating environmental consequences, and cites the millions of pounds of coal ash that he envisions being pumped into the air as a result of losing Indian Point's power.
While many legislators have called for the closure of Indian Point, some, like Spano, have vocalized a desire to replace the lost energy with a natural gas pipeline, which would keep the facility viable and preserve many of the jobs O'Neill imagines locals losing.
The LAI report will address whether a natural gas pipeline facility could compensate on the tax rolls for the loss of Indian Point, provide the lost power and keep jobs in Buchanan.
O'Neill suggested shutting down fossil fuel plants along the Hudson River and studying the possibility of pairing nuclear power with wind and solar to meet the needs.
"Nuclear plants are, in my opinion, alternative energy sources. They help us become less dependent on foreign oil," O'Neill said.
He said the anti-nuclear critics rely on "scare tactics and misinformation" to whip up a public frenzy, and used the example of dry cask storage, which is now taking place at Indian Point as the spent fuel rod pools meet their capacity.
"The anti-Indian Point crowd used to call for it," he said, "but now that it's become a reality, they're backing away from it."
Nuclear expert Gordon Thompson wrote a report, "Robust Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel," for the Westchester County chapter of Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), in which he recommends dry cask storage.
Thompson, director of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studied science and mechanical engineering and holds a doctorate in applied mathematics from Oxford University. He has spent decades assessing hazards associated with nuclear facilities and identifying alternative designs and modes of operation that can reduce risks.
He recommended hardening the storage casks with additional layers of concrete and other materials, and dispersing them so a single incident or accident wouldn't simultaneously affect an entire cache of stored fuel.
But Indian Point's casks, stored at the Indian Point site, will be kept in one place, stacked on top of one another, visible from the sky. Additionally, groups like the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC) and Riverkeeper, have argued the casks chosen by Indian Point's parent company, Entergy, are of questionable quality.
"Entergy must use a more robust cask that will be less vulnerable to acts of terrorism," Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC) contended in a July 14, 2004 statement. "The Holtec Hi-Storm 100 cask that Entergy proposes to use is one of the cheaper and least robust models. In addition, critics within the NRC and the industry have warned that the Holtec's quality assurance program is shoddy and their casks fraught with manufacturing and design flaws that can be particularly problematic at the time of transport."
O'Neill said he's "happy with the casks," and that his views on Indian Point are based on "scientific and empirical evidence."
When asked how Buchanan is preparing for the possibility of a shutdown now or in the future, O'Neill replied optimistically.
"We just don't see it happening. We've thought long and hard about safety because we live here. I just don't see Indian Point being shut down in my lifetime," he said, " or during the lifetimes of my children, or grandchildren."
He's far more concerned about a terrorist attack on the New York City subway, or even on one of the Hudson River's fossil fuel plants. He's not worried about Indian Point, he said, because the federal government seemingly isn't anxious.
"If there was serious concern," he said, "the Federal Aviation Administration and the NRC would have imposed a no-fly zone over the plant by now."
Deregulation of Low-Level Radioactive Waste
When nuclear plants are decommissioned, the radioactive waste doesn't just disappear. Experts might take decades handling and storing high-level radioactive waste, such as spent fuel and certain internal components of the reactors, Sheehan said. Everything else is considered low-level radioactive waste, meaning that every part of the plants exposed to radiation will either be contained at the facility or eventually moved to a waste site.
The sheer volume of the material commands a staggering fee when being processed.
In 2002, NRC entertained the idea of eliminating various restrictions on the handling of some low-level radioactive waste.
The Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRS) of Washington, D.C. urged the public to send comments in July 2002 when the organization became aware the NRC had paired with the United States Department of Transportation in an effort to "weaken radioactive transport regulations…at a time of terrorist threats and potential massive increases in nuclear waste shipment."
NIRS' radioactive waste project director, Diane D'Arrigo, said the agencies were planning to "exempt various amounts of hundreds of radioactive isotopes from regulatory controls, when we are already threatened with dirty bombs; weaken or fail to improve high level radioactive waste cask design criteria…and reduce the existing requirement to ship plutonium in double containers to allow single containers."
"If the regulations are changed, radioactive wastes and materials under various levels would be considered no longer radioactive and free to be shipped as if uncontaminated," D'Arrigo said.
Such a change in regulations could have meant that material contaminated with low-level radiation, such as tons of scrap material from a decommissioned plant, could have been recycled back into public use, D'Arrigo said, because landfills not previously authorized to handle the material would unwittingly have mixed it in with non-radioactive counterparts.
Judith Johnsrud, Ph.D is on the board of directors of NIRS and is the former chair of the Sierra Club National Energy Committee and Nuclear Waste Task Force. Johnsrud is also a member of the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Advisory Committee for the Low-Level Radiation Research Program, and serves as an advocate on several NRC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) panels.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States had six facilities authorized to handle low-level radioactive waste, according to a report, "Comments on U.S. Control and Management of Radioactive Wastes," written by Johnsrud. Three closed down due to leakage concerns, and governors in the states where the other three facilities remained protested the presence of radioactive dumps on their turf.
All of the nation's low-level radioactive waste, which has a cumulative impact on the bodies of those exposed to it, is still handled at three facilities, in the respective states of Washington, Utah and South Carolina. In the 1980s, according to Johnsrud, the cost of disposing of a cubic foot of waste was $5. Since then, the price has skyrocketed to more than $1,000 for the same amount of material, according to some estimates.
Johnsrud said the joint agencies' efforts to deregulate are "driven by disposal costs." The Steel Workers' Union vigorously protested an attempt to deregulate some radioactive materials in 1980 and 1981. Steelworkers would be left to unwittingly handle the material, which would be unmonitored and unlabeled, so they fight every time deregulation is proposed.
"There has been some talk about allowing landfills to handle low-level radioactive waste," Sheehan said this week, "but nothing has come of it."
According to Sheehan, there are three types of closure for nuclear plants, and once a utility chooses to embark on decommissioning, a deadline of 60 years is imposed on the process.
Utilities can choose to immediately remove all spent nuclear fuel from storage pools, put it in dry cask storage, decommission the pools and have all radioactive materials removed to one of the three sites specializing in the handling of radioactive waste, Sheehan said.
A second closure option is more common, Sheehan said, at multi-reactor sites."A utility might choose to 'mothball' the site and take it apart later," Sheehan said. Mothballing entails closing off a reactor while other reactors at the same site continue to operate.
"When reactors are closed off, radioactivity begins to decay fairly rapidly, as soon as the reactors are no longer splitting atoms," Sheehan said.
The third option, which has never yet been chosen by a utility in the United States, is "entombing," which requires the construction of a "concrete sarcophagus, such as that at the Chernobyl plant," Sheehan explained.
In the absence of a national repository for spent fuel, such as the proposed and hotly contested Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, the toxic material must remain on-site, Sheehan said.
"It's hard to say if Yucca Mountain is going to happen," Sheehan admitted. "There are a lot of issues."
As part of the protest against Long Island's Shoreham, a plant that never officially went online, emergency planning couldn't be accomplished due to refusal to participate at the local and state levels. The lack of data then made it possible for then-Governor Mario Cuomo to negotiate a solution. That hasn't been the case with Indian Point.
"My understanding," said Sheehan, "is that the state and counties never refused to take part in emergency exercises or in revising emergency planning procedures for Indian Point. All of the parties certainly took place in the emergency exercise for Indian Point conducted earlier this year. What they did do was refuse to certify an annual checklist of emergency response capabilities."
Sheehan drummed the point that NRC is responsible for on-site emergency planning, while the FEMA carries the burden of off-site planning.
"FEMA will tell you the certification is not a requirement and that through reviews and other means, the agency has been able to determine that there is still 'reasonable assurance' that the emergency plans could be successfully carried out," Sheehan explained.
Regardless of the split between the two agencies' responsibilities, NRC is still the ultimate authority on the matter, and once FEMA chose to rubber-stamp the plans despite opposition, NRC could have rejected the preliminary approval.
"Ultimately, we have to say yes or no," Sheehan conceded, "but they are the experts. We trust their judgment."
On July 25, 2003, FEMA's Director of the Preparedness Division, R. David Paulison wrote a letter to Governor George Pataki to assure him Westchester could fulfill the emergency plans despite a refusal to submit detailed information to FEMA.
"I am writing," Paulison began, "to transmit FEMA's determination of reasonable assurance that the off-site preparedness for...Indian Point is adequate."
Paulison went on to "outline the additional actions FEMA is prepared to take to help make the region a model of preparedness for the nation."
"Emergency planning for Indian Point is an on-going, cyclical process," Paulison said. Putnam, Orange and Rockland had updated their plans at this time, but the lone holdout, Westchester, sought the assistance of "outside contractors…and refused to provide FEMA with a copy of those detailed plan updates."
By actively exercising their plans and continuing to participate in drills and other planning and training events, Paulison said Westchester had proven capable of handling an evacuation. The county, he wrote, has "successfully demonstrated their ability to respond to the scenarios presented."
The "scenarios presented," however, don't include a fast-breaking release of radiation, or a situation in which key infrastructure is completely disabled during a slow release.
In 1988, after the state refused to participate in emergency planning for Shoreham, Cuomo negotiated on behalf of the state with the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) to reach an agreement to decommission the Shoreham nuclear power plant at a cost of $5.3 billion. The cost was absorbed by federal taxpayers, the utility's investors and electricity customers on Long Island.
"There were concerns that because of the location of the Shoreham plant, it would be difficult to evacuate the population, that it couldn't be effectively pulled off," Sheehan said.
Populations around many of the nation's 103 nuclear plants have boomed into urban sprawl, Sheehan said, but that doesn't mean populations can't be safely evacuated despite drastically different circumstances than when plants were first slated for construction.
The fight to close Shoreham was forceful not only at the local level, but at the state level. Governor George Pataki, formerly mayor of Peekskill from 1981 to 1984, has never taken a stance like Cuomo's.
The circumstances surrounding the two plants are radically different. In August 2002, Pataki did commission a study of the evacuation plans from Witt, considered to be the top expert on emergency planning in the nation.
Even Witt's litany of concerns regarding the emergency evacuation plans hasn't resulted in anything close to the successful actions taken by the state of New York when looking to decommission Shoreham.
Shoreham, stigmatized from the start, ended up being the most expensive plant that never operated commercially, as the 1989 buyout took place before the plant ever fully went online. Indian Point, on the other hand, is a firmly entrenched power player in the New York metropolitan energy scene.
"In the case of Indian Point, the emergency plans have been subjected to more scrutiny than any others in the country," Sheehan said. "FEMA and NRC have seen no reason to believe the plans wouldn't be adequate."
NRC, as Sheehan said, doesn't consider it "within their jurisdiction" to tell a plant to close down permanently. When asked why the emergency evacuation plans don't take major sabotage, such as the intentional destruction of transportation corridors, bridges or other equipment into account, Sheehan said security concerns preclude agencies from sharing that kind of information.
"A lot of things are going on behind the scenes," he said, explaining the NRC collaborates with the Department of Homeland Security and other intelligence agencies for such private discussions.
"In a catastrophic scene like 9/11, all tools at the government's disposal would come to pass," he said. "You can say 'What if the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge are blown out and there's a plane crash into the domes at the same time?' You can do that do a limitless degree but really, what are the odds of that happening?"
The Chicken Little Complex
After the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, President Jimmy Carter mandated emergency evacuation plans and booklets explaining them to residents living within 10 miles of nuclear power plants. Carl Patrick of Putnam Valley was responsible for organizing Indian Point's booklet, the nation's first of its kind.
With no model on which to base the intrepid project, Patrick said the plans and booklet were "approached with caution."
The real problem with the evacuation plans isn't the population boom in Westchester and New York City, he said, and it isn't the possibility of terrorism. It's the "misperception created by the media," resulting in criticism and the possibility of panic that could created during an actual evacuation.
"The publicity that surrounds Indian Point means a whole bunch of people might pour out onto the roads, but if you're upwind, you don't have to worry," he said, adding the evacuation plan is based on moving those closest to the plant out first. "It's not a plan to move hundreds of thousands of people."
The evacuation plans don't involve the threat of terrorism, he said, because it's "unrealistic that terrorists will bomb or disable roads." Additionally, alternate traffic routes are considered in the plans.
Far more frightening to Patrick than the idea of terrorists are those people with a "Chicken Little Complex," those who believe everyone between New York and Albany would need to hit the road if a radioactive plume hits the sky.
"Those people," he said, "could jeopardize the lives of those who need to get out." He cited a train derailment in the 1970s in Toronto involving "nasty chemicals.""They moved a quarter of a million people out in 24 hours with no evacuation plan," he noted.
Patrick said he "backed into the nuclear industry" during a career as a teacher 30 years ago. With no communications experience, his demeanor and other skills scored him the job of communications manager for the New York Power Authority (NYPA), then owner of Indian Point 3 and the Fitzpatrick plant near Oswego, New York.
"From a technological perspective, nuclear plants are a safe, efficient and environmentally acceptable way to make electricity," said Patrick, who is now semi-retired and continues to write reports as a strategic communications consultant.
The industry's public approval rating is similar now to when he first started out, but he noted the accident at Three Mile Island, followed in 1986 by the Chernobyl disaster, caused a crisis of public faith for a time. He called this reaction "reasonable," and said it led to an exponential increase in safety at all nuclear plants. This attention to safety was generated by the industry, not by the NRC, he said.
"If the industry hadn't taken such steps, the NRC surely would have," Patrick explained.
Three major changes included hardware upgrades, personnel changes and a new look at procedures, since all three factors played a role in the Three Mile Island accident. "The plants operate so much more reliably than before Three Mile Island," he said.
When asked about obvious failures, such as the decay of a reactor head at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio, Patrick said that was "the result of a bunch of guys who failed to recognize obvious signs."
On December 4, 2001, the NRC didn't force the Davis-Besse plant to shut down, even temporarily, despite concerns about possible cracks of nozzles passing through the reactor lid. In February, the plant was shut down for routine refueling, and plant operators announced five cracks in the nozzles. A month later, NRC announced that acid had leaked from the nozzles to decay six inches of steel.
On January 3, 2003, the New York Times reported NRC's Office of Inspector General found top agency safety officials delayed shutdown because it didn't want to hurt the plant owner financially. Small cracks had been detected at other plants around the same time.
The NRC had drafted a letter on November 16, 2001, requiring the 25-year-old Davis-Besse plant to shut down, but the Inspector General's report said the "agency backed off when plant owner FirstEnergy Corporation said such a shutdown would be costly and could cause wintertime power shortages in northwest Ohio."
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was quoted in the article: "The report shows that FirstEnergy and the NRC worked together to put profits above public safety. It's unacceptable."
NRC Chairman Richard Meserve defended the agency's actions with regard to Davis-Besse.
Patrick said the answer to such challenges lies in understanding that profit is derived from operating a safe plant. "Continual vigilance is required," he said, "the same way you keep airline pilots from falling asleep in the cockpit, the same way you deal with any situation that's potentially hazardous."
The fight to close down Indian Point has been evolving for decades, he said, and the battle isn't likely to come to and end anytime soon.
"Indian Point has always been controversial," he said, crediting the proximity to New York City, the media capital of the world, for most of the attention.
The Hudson River Valley has long been the focus of "an environmental movement of the leisure class," he said, "with enough time, money," and intelligence to mount an attack.
Despite the fear of terrorism and the vocal perseverance of passionate critics and environmentalists, not to mention hundreds of legislators and countless residents and organizations, Patrick envisions Indian Point humming along on the Hudson River for years to come, maybe even 25 or 30, he said.
Indian Point 2's license to operate will expire in 2013, and Indian Point 3 will be close behind in 2015. Entergy will need to apply to NRC soon if the utility intends to continue operating because the process of re-licensing takes years.
Entergy hasn't stated its intentions either way, nor have they yet applied for a new permit, but the clock is ticking. With so much to do on both sides, and so many questions still to answer, killing time is no longer an option.
Secrecy on security at nuclear plants continues to be scrutinized
North County News, November 10, 2004
by Rita J. King
The same way
the food chain creates an impetus for evolution, terrorism and security each
force the other entity to get stronger and smarter in order to succeed. In this
interplay of offense and defense, the nuclear industry has found itself at the
center of a debate about how much security is really enough.
After 9/11, security upgrades and mandates from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have manifested in enhanced barrier fortifications, better training for guards, razor wire and cement blocks protecting the nation's 103 nuclear power plants.
But the most notable change is the regulatory agency's announcement on August 4 that security issues at nuclear plants will now be veiled in secrecy, effectively eliminating public scrutiny and the ability of watchdog groups to raise awareness about issues affecting the industry as a whole or even at specific facilities, such as the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan.
NRC chairman Nils Diaz said the regulatory agency "deliberated for months on finding the balance between the NRC's commitment to openness and the concern that sensitive information might be misused by those who wish us harm."
When asked if the NRC's policy change might be an indication that terrorism will similarly be taken into account to revise the emergency evacuation plans, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said a fast-breaking plume of radiation was "impossible."
Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog group with eyes and ears on the Hudson River, has been spearheading the fight to shut down Indian Point.
"The new policy is nothing more than a way to shield plant owners from embarrassing security blunders becoming public," said Riverkeeper Executive Director Alex Matthiessen. "The new and ill-advised policy will have a negative impact on security at Indian Point. Absent an explanation of what substantial security improvements have been made, one can only assume that little has been done…The NRC is fooling no one, certainly not the people of New York, and certainly not the terrorists determined to strike again."
Indian Point spokesman Jim Steets said he understands the necessity for having secret "safeguards" information to avoid "helping terrorists," but he's also frustrated because he's convinced if people had more information "nobody would see Indian Point as a potential terrorist target."
"It's often difficult for folks who don't have a background in engineering to understand how the forces of nature work," Steets remarked.
For example, Steets explained the "containment structures around the reactors are so strong that nothing reasonable could penetrate them."
What is "reasonable" these days?
"Okay, nothing imaginable could penetrate," he said. "People say a nuclear bomb could blow them up, but a nuclear bomb would do just fine on its own, so why put it at Indian Point?"
With President George W. Bush having announced blueprints for nuclear plants had been found in the caves of Afghanistan, and the 9/11 Commission's executive report explicitly stating terrorists had been planning to strike a nuclear plant on 9/11 but planes were grounded before the day's full roster of events could be completed, terrorism is the most substantial security concern facing the nuclear industry.
The NRC has never required nuclear plants, as private industries, to protect themselves against "acts of war" or "enemies of the United States." On 9/11, suicide bombers used the Hudson River as a navigational tool and flew above Indian Point on their way into Manhattan.
In the wake of that devastation, scrutiny on security intensified. Are measures to bolster security strong enough to keep those living around nuclear plants safe from an attack?
The Lonesome Whistleblower
When Ralph Nader made a Halloween appearance days before the presidential election in Peekskill, a scant crowd was present. The candidate stood with his back to Indian Point, visible in the distance behind him, with rolling hills along the Hudson River glowing golden in the molten autumn sun. Neither President Bush, nor his Democratic rival, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, showed up in that spot, Nader noted, to criticize the operation of Indian Point, considered by some, Nader included, to be one of the most "attractive terrorist targets in America."
"Protecting the health and safety of the public should come before protecting the profits of major nuclear power donors to the Bush Administration," Nader said. "The administration should require all nuclear plants to take authentic, measurable steps to protect themselves from terrorists…as to reduce the risk of a radioactive release."
Such criticisms are often dismissed as "scare tactics" by Steets, who has become a popular mouthpiece for the industry. He was even the subject of a feature in the New York Times in September, 2004, "The Public, and Cheerful, face of Nuclear Energy."
A couple of months ago, the possibility of a strike among security guards over contract negotiations didn't ruffle Steets.
"If they strike, we can replace them with trained security officers from anywhere," he said at the time, adding new workers are given a thorough and intensive training period prior to taking on posts within the plant. The training includes background checks and psychological tests, he said.
"People think security guards just kind of stand around and shoot back if somebody starts shooting at them," he said. "That's not the case."
Each guard, he said, covers a specific area and has a specific duty. He doesn't believe it would make any difference at all if the federal government took over security at the plant, because the "requirements for security would still be the same."
NRC's Sheehan said interim guards can be trusted with important information about plant security because "if they want to remain employed in this field, they need to remain trustworthy."
One guard who stepped beyond the hush of business as usual is Foster Zeh, a former Indian Point security officer. On December 9, 2002, Zeh was interviewed on "Good Morning America!" by Diane Sawyer of ABC News. He appeared with the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Danielle Brian.
Zeh said during security drills, one of the most vulnerable and arguably the most dangerous area of the plants, the spent nuclear storage building, was infiltrated easily, within seconds.
"These drills are, are basically designed for…the security officers to, to enhance the security, obviously," Zeh told Diane Sawyer. "But when we went to our supervisors with it, we were basically told to shut up."
He went on to describe guards fearful of an attack due to understaffing, poor training, and fitness levels so inadequate that repelling an attack might be physically impossible.
POGO's Brian said her agency interviewed 140 guards across the country and found overwhelmingly similar feelings from three quarters of those interviewed.
"It's a bottom line issue," Brian said. "It's money. The minimum requirement is that you have a pistol permit. That doesn't, necessitate that you're going to do well against an armed attack. And it's ridiculous that these companies actually believe, and our elected officials believe, that this is enough to protect a nuclear power plant. It really isn't."
Zeh went on to say guards are "physically and morally defeated" because no matter how many times security was breached during drills, the facility garnered high marks.
Officials from Indian Point's parent company, Entergy, declined to appear in the segment but sent a statement acknowledging they were in compliance with NRC regulations.
"One of the points in their statement is that the NRC said…they've passed their standards, and what's frightening is, it's true," Brian said. "The government standards, frankly, are so pathetic that the companies are able to say, 'look, we've passed everything we have to pass.' And so, from our perspective, until the government raises the bar and really demands serious security, that's what we're going to get."
In addition to his media appearance, Zeh wrote a letter to the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in December 2002, in which he detailed an avalanche of security concerns, such as drills being deliberately rigged to ensure success, skittish guards unsure of the capability to repel an attack, overtime, high fatigue and a lack of faith in management.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission
NRC is the ultimate authority when it comes to creating the security standards that guide the nuclear power industry. Two months after 9/11, NRC Chairman Dr. Richard Meserve admitted the NRC had been caught off guard by the scope and force of that day.
"President Bush described the September 11 attacks as an act of war," Meserve said before the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations during a November 8, 2001 speech. "Plainly, those vicious attacks far exceeded anything that the NRC had contemplated as a threat to our licensees. Nor had we seriously considered the possibility that a terrorist threat might affect all U.S. nuclear facilities simultaneously."
"In principle, of course, it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to protect the nation against threats from abroad," Meserve said, "but the reality of the present crisis is that all of us, organizations and individuals, public and private, have a responsibility as citizens to do our part to protect the American people."
But if NRC hadn't even considered the possibility of such an attack, or worse, what has been done since to prepare?
Sheehan said nuclear plants were already "robustly" protected before 9/11, and the government was responsible for protecting the American people against acts of war and enemies of the United States while licensees are not.
"Nuclear plants have always had a high level of security," Sheehan said, adding the industry has spent millions on heightened mandates after September 11. The deadline for enforcing those new rules just passed, on October 29.
Better guard training is one of the new measures, along with physical improvements at facilities such as greater standoff distances for vehicles, additional checkpoints and more security guards, Sheehan said.
To test security, NRC holds "force-on-force drills," during which mock marauders armed with fake weapons engage in imaginary battle with guards, some of whom have been hired and trained expressly to meet the demands of the drill, announced months in advance to give facilities a chance beef up on muscle and know-how.
After 9/11, NRC took a hiatus to assess a new Design Basis Threat (DBT) in the face of previously unimagined possibilities. The DBT is designed, according to NRC, based on the type, composition and abilities of an adversary.
In April 2003, the new DBT was approved for use in a June drill that took place at Indian Point. Previously, some facts and figures surrounding force-on-force drills had been made public, but the new DBT is being kept secret. In fact, NRC announced in August all security information about the nuclear industry, even information previously announced routinely such as guards asleep at their posts, will henceforth be shielded from the public, ostensibly to avoid helping terrorists.
Riverkeeper pounced on the announcement, believing the purpose was to shield nuclear plants from "embarrassing gaffes and public relations nightmares."
"Given the increased terrorist threat level, Indian Point's poor record on security, and the NRC's weak oversight, now is the time for greater scrutiny, not less," said Riverkeeper's former Senior Policy Analyst Kyle Rabin. "The NRC should consider an alternative policy that will allow nuclear watchdogs and public interest groups to participate in the development of security regulations and provide oversight in a manner that enhances plant security."
Riverkeeper doesn't trust that the new DBT will meet the standard set by guerrilla warfare or terrorist tactics, especially those involving the possibility of suicide bombers.
"For about 25 years, NRC has required reactor operators to design their security plans to protect only against a land-based terrorist event by no more than three external attackers operating as a single team and using weapons no more sophisticated than hand-carried automatic rifles," Rabin noted. "However, on September 11, 2001, more than six times that number of attackers, operating as four separate teams, using airplanes as weapons, launched a terrorist attack in the United States that took thousands of lives. A successful terrorist attack on a reactor or spent fuel pool could result in tens of thousands of casualties from prompt deaths and delayed cancers."
On September 14, 2004, Director of Natural Resources and the Environment for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Jim Wells testified before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives. His testimony was entitled, "Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Preliminary Observations on Efforts to Improve Security at Nuclear Power Plants."
"Today, three years after the Twin Towers and Pentagon attacks, we are discussing what NRC has done, where they are, and what's left to do," Wells began.
To NRC's credit, he said, the agency "responded immediately" after 9/11 with heightened security measures and a new DBT. The GAO had recommended a "more realistic," and frequent drill, held every three years instead of eight, and Wells noted those suggestions had been implemented.
"While we applaud these efforts, it will take several more years for NRC to make an independent determination that each plant has taken reasonable and appropriate steps to provide protection," Wells said, adding the GAO has concerns about the process.
The first problem, according to Wells, is the NRC isn't visiting the plants much, but rather relying on a "paper review" to move security along.
"As a result, NRC will not have detailed knowledge about security at individual facilities prior to approval," Wells explained.
Wells also questioned the manner in which the NRC was looking to measure security.
"NRC is considering action that could potentially compromise the integrity of the exercises. The agency is planning to require the use of an adversary force trained in terrorist tactics," Wells said. "However, NRC is considering the use of a force provided by a company that the nuclear power industry selected; a company that has had problems in the past, and a company that provides guards for about half the facilities to be tested. This relationship with the industry raises questions about the force's independence."
He was referring, in all likelihood, to Wackenhut, the United States-based division of the leading global provider of security-related services. Wackenhut was once in charge of security at Indian Point. In March 2003, Entergy assumed that responsibility internally.
Eye on Wackenhut, a website hosted by the Service Employees International Union, has made a mission out of watching the security company. Eye on Wackenhut has identified a variety of security related complaints, such as long hours for guards, inadequate training and the apparent contradiction of security at some plants being managed by the same company that, in some cases, later tests the adequacy of the security.
Eye on Wackenhut and nearly 500 others voiced such concerns to NRC chairman Diaz, who responded in a statement posted online in early 2004. After reviewing the issues, mostly about Indian Point nuclear plants, Diaz began his report by noting security was adequate.
Steets said security efforts were coordinated between various intelligence agencies, NRC, officials from the Department of Defense, law enforcement agencies, engineers and military intelligence.
"We had a secure facility before 9/11," Steets said. "We had barrier fences, cameras, metal detectors, x-ray machines and other layers of protection, and they have all doubled since 9/11. Indian Point meets all the requirements of the NRC. NRC employees get up every morning knowing what their jobs and responsibilities are."
Entergy has spent $30 million implementing more security since 9/11, he said, and has met the new DBT established by the NRC.
"The drill was more intensive this time," Steets said, although he refused to verify if the exercise addressed the possibility of more sophisticated sabotage or more attackers than before. He also wouldn't say if mock truck bombs were included in the drill.
Entry for some might be effectively barred by barbed wire and cement blocks, but did the drill begin with violent, possibly suicidal, bombers paving the way for more saboteurs?
"NRC did say Indian Point security repelled the attacks and performed well," he noted.
"It's important to recognize that after 9/11, we all realize we have a lot of borders and facilities that require protection. Security means a lot of different things," Steets said.
He said increased measures at airports, for example, benefit the nuclear industry because the additional security provides another level of protection against sabotage from the sky. He drew a clear line between the plant's responsibility to protect itself by meeting NRC mandates, and the government's responsibility to protect Americans from acts of war or enemies of the United States.
"We can't prevent a plane from crashing into a dome," Steets said. "That's the government's responsibility."
Despite no-fly zones over the Super Bowl and Disney parks, flights aren't banned from crossing the sky above Indian Point. For a brief period after 9/11, airspace was restricted and additional security measures were taken and quickly dropped.
"They don't think it's necessary to place restrictions on commercial flights," Steets said.
In October 2001, the intelligence community caught wind of a "credible threat" against Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, already the site of the worst nuclear accident in American history in 1979, after which President Jimmy Carter mandated emergency evacuation plans for communities living near all the nation's power plants.
Sheehan wouldn't specify the nature of the threat against Three Mile Island, but he said the response to it was an example of how the facility and government worked together to protect the plant and residents. The airspace above the plant was restricted and guarded by the military while security within the facility was on high alert.
A helicopter was once spotted hovering too long in the air above the Seabrook Plant in New Hampshire, Sheehan said, and was escorted out by fighter jets.
While filming Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable for HBO, Rory Kennedy and her brother, attorney and environmental activist Robert "Bobby" F. Kennedy, Jr., hovered in the airspace near Indian Point while discussing a perceived lack of security.
"Can you imagine a world without New York City?" said Bobby Kennedy. "The terrorists already have."
The Great Escape
Last year, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano staged a revolution against the emergency evacuation plans when he refused to verify the county was prepared for a radiological emergency, despite having completed all the necessary drills and preparatory mandates. In a show of solidarity, his colleagues from Putnam, Rockland and Orange Counties also refused to ink their signatures.
Year after year, after the county executives verify preparedness, as they have in the past, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reviews the results of the preparedness drill, also called a "mock evacuation," before recommending the NRC ultimately approve the plans. FEMA is responsible for organizing the off-site response to a radiological emergency, while NRC coordinates on-site.
The protest of the county executives created a fierce finger-pointing battle, during which the state asked the counties for more information and the federal government asked the state for more information before FEMA approved the plans despite the din and passed them up to the NRC for ultimate approval.
In the meantime, local school districts such as Lakeland, protested the hassle of trying to decipher complicated consequences of proximity to Indian Point, such as planning their own evacuation strategy, assuring parents children will have transportation, food, shelter, safety and access to potassium iodide pills to protect their thyroids in case of exposure to radiation.
Westchester County has repeatedly voiced similar complaints about unprepared first responders and the funding of emergency measures to the tune of nearly five million annually while Entergy, Indian Point's parent company, is required to shore up around half a million.
Congresswoman Sue Kelly was instrumental in calling for Congressional hearings on Indian Point, held in February 2003, before FEMA approved the plans.
"This isn't a game," Kelly said at the hearings. "This is about the safety of 20 million residents in the New York metropolitan area."
She went on to slam FEMA's response to the public and legislative outcry.
"I say with no uncertainty that I am appalled by the conduct of FEMA as it relates to Indian Point," Kelly said. "The agency's inaction and bureaucratic finger-pointing has been a disservice to our community. Instead of providing expert guidance to local officials, FEMA has engaged in a senseless agenda of intimidation and dangerous bullying."
Many lost faith in the regulatory agencies after the fray, and public and legislative scrutiny intensified. Currently, more than 400 elected officials, legislators, senators, trustees and councilperson from the tri-state area have signed a petition demanding closure of Indian Point.
"Currently the biggest risk to Indian Point and the rest of the U.S. commercial nuclear power plant fleet is the refusal of the NRC, DHS, FEMA, the federal government, and the nuclear industry to acknowledge that in this post-9/11 world, we need to secure and limit any and all of the country's greatest potential terrorist targets," said Riverkeeper outreach coordinator Lisa Rainwater van Suntum, PhD. "Nuclear power plants, as even President Bush discussed in his 2002 State of the Union Address, have been and continue to be high on the list of possible terrorist targets. Until these entities take direct action to secure nuclear power plants, and in particular shut down Indian Point, which poses the greatest threat to the greatest number of people, the region and country are at risk."
Rainwater van Suntum feels the government has "refused to accept science, act on intelligence reports, and provide ample funding to local, regional, and statewide agencies."
Many have voiced concern about spent nuclear fuel being stored in pools of water.
David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is one of many experts who have fired warning flares about the vulnerability of the fuel and the catastrophe that could result should a nuclear fire begin.
The testimony of experts on Indian Point's payroll often contradicts the findings of Lochbaum and others, like Gordon Thompson, a world-renowned expert who advises plants to "harden and disperse" spent nuclear fuel in fortified casks to prevent a cataclysmic attack or accident.
"For every PhD, there's an equal and opposite PhD," Westchester County Executive Spano likes to say.
Even Entergy's own research, including a report from January 25, 2002, questions the success guards might have when faced with real danger. According to Entergy's own report, only 19 percent of guards interviewed at the planet felt they could successfully repel an attack.
To make matters even more ambiguous with regard to the necessity for a strong security force, NRC Commissioner Edward McGaffigan said in Kennedy's documentary terrorists don't have the capability to train near the plants and succeed with an attack.
Other experts have given equally passionate testimony to the contrary, insisting the eastern seaboard could be rendered
uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years and the world's economy could be crushed if a successful attack on one of Indian Point's spent fuel rod pools resulted in a nuclear fire.
It seemed like only one person, James Lee Witt, might have the knowledge and skills to set the record straight on the adequacy of the emergency evacuation plans, so his counsel was sought.
New Perspectives on Security
In 2002, New York Governor George Pataki hired James Lee Witt & Associates to conduct an independent study of the emergency evacuation plans, a requirement mandated by President Jimmy Carter after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island. As Director of FEMA, Witt approved emergency evacuation plans for Indian Point, around which eight percent of the nation's population lives in a 50-mile radius.
This time around, Witt, the nation's top expert in emergency planning, found the plans to be "inadequate" in January 2003. Just as FEMA had disregarded the protest of the county executives, they now chose to downplay Witt's expertise, and his warning that in light of 9/11, the emergency plans should take a fast-breaking release into account. This was merely one of a litany of flaws Witt found in the plans.
The report, nearly 500 pages long, seemed like it would provide a new path for emergency planners responsible for ensuring the safety of those living around nuclear plants, and especially Indian Point.
"Simply stated," Witt wrote in the executive summary of his report, "the world has recently changed. What was once considered sufficient may now be in need of further revision."
Among Witt's observations was a perceived contradiction in the reality of human nature and the expectation that people will obey instructions from authority figures.
"The plans appear based on the premise that people will comply with official government directions rather than acting in accordance with what they perceive to be their own best interests," Witt wrote.
The plans haven't been updated, he said, to reflect the possibility of terrorism.
Steets reacted by saying the evacuation plans are "Adequate even in light of possible terrorism. The basic time frame for a release getting bad enough to cause serious harm is the same. The rapid-release scenario doesn't exist."
Witt said he hoped the report would accelerate both "regulatory and cultural changes."
Two months later, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) became official.
Matthew Brzezinski wrote an article for Mother Jones describing his experience of researching and visiting the DHS.
"It was billed as America's frontline against terrorism," he wrote. "But badly underfunded, crippled by special interests and ignored by the White House, the Department of Homeland Security has been relegated to bureaucratic obscurity."
Brzezinski was one of the first journalists to "get an inside look at what was billed as the most ambitious government overhaul since the creation of the Pentagon in 1947."
March 1, 2003 was the official start date for the DHS, composed of 22 government agencies. According to Brzezinski, the $27 million DHS budget is used to screen 1.5 million airline passengers, inspecting 57,000 trucks and shipping containers, as well as making arrests and seizures, reviewing intelligence reports, training federal officers and issuing information.
Brzezinski expected a "colossus," he said, but instead found "wholly inadequate quarters." He was there to meet with assistant secretary from the Infrastructure Protection Directorate Bob Liscouski, whose mission it is to "make sure Al Qaeda doesn't blow up a power plant, bridge, nuclear or chemical facility somewhere in the United States."
After Liscouski drew a matrix to "explain the role of vulnerability assessments being conducted to establish…terrorist attacks to America's economic backbone," Brzezinski asked him what he was doing about it.
"We don't do the doing," Liscouski said. "We do the coordinating. Our role is to look at the big picture of what is really threatened and determine how to protect it."
FEMA, responsible for the off-site response to a radiological emergency at the nation's 103 nuclear power plants, was brought under the DHS's umbrella of protection. NRC remains an independent agency.
"NRC has a very good relationship with DHS," Sheehan said. "We have a lot of interagency committees and councils."
When asked how the umbrella of protection offered by DHS has changed life at Indian Point, Steets said the NRC "has an important relationship with DHS and we're part of the mix."
DHS Director Tom Ridge may or may not have visited Indian Point, Steets said, but "other staffers have."
Local legislators such as Congressman Eliot Engel have written letters to Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, urging him to take a closer look at Indian Point.
In March of 2003, Engel wrote: Security at and around nuclear power plants is no longer just a concern of the NRC. With real terrorist threats looming over nuclear power plants, the Department of Homeland Security should be actively engaged in securing our nuclear power plants and the spent fuel rods located there. The threats are real, and we need to ensure that those people living near the plants receive the best protection our country can provide."
Engel concluded with a wish to work with Ridge on the Indian Point issue, and he was not alone in his request. But Ridge has reportedly remained unresponsive. When attempts to contact the DHS were made for this article, the first call was patched through to a live conversation and both parties hung up when they realized a third party had been privy to a fragment of the conversation. Two subsequent calls were not returned in time.
On the DHS website, under the "contact us," subhead, the only information provided is for the agency's postal address.
"Ridge has refused repeated requests by state political leaders, including Westchester County Executive Andy Spano and the New York City Council, to meet to discuss safety concerns. Ridge hasn't even responded to their letters," wrote Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in an editorial published in Newsday on October 28, 2004.
When GAO's Wells testified before the House of Representatives, he made it clear that while changes have been made in security, the industry and the agency responsible for guiding it still have a journey ahead of them.
"In conclusion," Wells said, "can the public be assured that NRC's efforts will protect the plants against attacks? Our answer is not yet. It will be some time before NRC can provide the public with full assurances that what has been done is enough. Some of these enhancements are still being put in place, and they remain to be tested…We believe based on what we have seen to date, that it is important for NRC to act quickly and take a strong leadership role in establishing a worthy adversary team for these exercises, establish priorities for the facilities to be tested, carefully analyze the test results for shortcomings in facility security, and be willing to require additional security improvements as warranted."
The Design Basis Threat, in other words, needs to be cautiously engineered to keep the industry's security equal to any threat they may face, especially considering utilities aren't required to protect themselves against acts of war or enemies of the United States.
‘Chernobyl-on-the-Hudson’: New reports detail terrorist targets
Tony Attrino, John Adamski,
Michael McDonnell and Walter Elliott
The Observer, November 10, 2004
There are 15,000 such facilities in the United States, including an estimated 111 that, if attacked, could each put a million or more people at risk of death or injury,” writes environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in his new book, “Crimes Against Nature.”
The Kuehne plant has long been considered a top target for terrorists in terms of the numbers of people injured or killed in the event that hazardous chemicals are released from its tanks.
raised concerns over Indian Point, a nuclear power plant on the other side of
“Since Sept. 11, the White House has done nothing to require better security at those 15,000 chemical manufacturing facilities, oil tank farms, pesticide plants, and other repositories of deadly chemicals,” Kennedy writes. “Nor has it forced the nuclear industry to beef up security adequately at its 103 nuclear power plants.”
Kennedy want the plant closed or formidable security features to be set in place
in order to ensure the safety of 20 million people in the New York City area.
In the worst-case scenario, people residing in the most outer-lying areas including
the targets are ambitious ones for terrorists because of their proximity to
“What unprecedented measures has Bush enacted to prevent this horror from occurring?” Kennedy writes. “Next to none.”
The charge that government has done little or nothing to protect citizens from an attack on the Kuehne Chemical Company raises the ire of veteran policeman John Manley, a sergeant with the Kearny Police Department, who says that law officers on local, state and federal levels have studied plant security.
“There have been many, many meetings and federal money placed into the security of that plant,” Manley said. “There have been tremendous measures taken. And there are things that I won’t discuss with you that I don’t want people to know about because it will hinder those efforts.”
Kennedy’s allegations “are not entirely true,” agreed Joe Konopka, a deputy coordinator for the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management. “There have been some improvements there – safety improvements and target hardening.”
From the outside, cement barricades prevent a truck loaded with explosives from ramming into the plant. There is always the presence of at least one police officer in a patrol car positioned outside the plant’s gates.
Kearny Mayor Al Santos said local officials have worked with the federal government to improve security.
is under the jurisdiction of the state and federal homeland security offices,
and all security matters are reviewed by them,”
But Rick Hind,
legislative director for the Greenpeace Organization in
“We drove right up and took pictures and nobody stopped us,” Hind said.
But a grainy videotape available on the Internet seems to bolster Hind’s claim. Taken from the vantage point of a dashboard, it shows a motorist driving unimpeded through the plant’s front gates and approaching several rail car tanks, presumably filled with chlorine. The videotape is dated May 10, 2003.
before the attacks on the
The report offered a frightening worst-case scenario of what might happen in an attack on the plant: “Fully loaded railroad tank car releases all its chlorine within 10 minutes. The resulting cloud of chlorine vapor would be immediately dangerous to both life and health for a distance exceeding 14 miles. The total population in this radius is approximately 12 million.”
Hind took a special interest in Kuehne after Sept. 11, 2001.
“The lessons of 9/11 are two-fold,” Hind said. “One, the terrorists used our own infrastructure against us. Two, we can prevent that from happening in places (like Kuehne) where we are extremely vulnerable from being attacked.”
Hind calls Kuehne the “number one” terrorist target in the nation in terms of the number of people who can be put at risk. After twice visiting the plant and assessing the security there, Hind said he developed several theories on how a terrorist might attack the chlorine tanks.
“A high-powered rifle might be enough to create a disaster without going through security,” Hind said. “A 50-cal. rifle bullet penetrates one-inch of armor-plated steel.”
Hind’s statements anger Manley, who charged that activists who work with the media to publicize such theories create public fear and might actually give terrorists ideas they didn’t have before. “Before the publicity, few people had heard of Kuehne,” Manley said.
To most local
people, terrorist targets seem most frightening when they are close to home.
But consider the Indian Point power plant, a nuclear reactor many miles away.
Authorities on Indian Point nuclear plant, which is located on the east bank of the Hudson River outside Buchanan, N.Y. – just 22 miles from Manhattan and owned by the Arkansas power conglomerate Entergy recently stated that the frail nuclear power plant is at the end of its energy production lifespan – not to mention – a “vulnerable” target for terrorists jeopardizing the lives of 20 million people including those in the surrounding areas.
“No one is taking responsibility for safety at Indian Point,” Kennedy told The Observer. “Either Entergy or the Federal government needs to step-up and improve security on many levels.”
And like Kuehne, security at Indian Point seems questionable at best. On Oct. 19, two staff members with The Observer newspaper drove through the front gates of the plant, parked their vehicle and roamed about the plant grounds for about five minutes before being approached by security.
Sheehan, a member of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which is located
“Indian Point was built in the early seventies and it is indeed at the end of its life expectancy,” Sheehan added.
A study conducted by Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that the chances of a reactor meltdown increase by nearly a factor of 100 at Indian Point because the plant’s drainage pits (also known as containment sumps) are “almost certain” to be blocked with debris during an accident.
“The NRC has known about the containment sump problem at Indian Point since September 1996, but currently plans to fix it only by March 2007,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists.” The NRC cannot take more than a decade to fix a safety problem that places millions of Americans at undue risk.”
Entergy spokesperson James Steets said that there’s no rush to fix the problems with the emergency system because a breakdown isn’t likely in the first place.
“There has been $30 million in upgrades that includes bomb detection devises, new weapons, hand print recognition machines, security cameras installed along the barbed wire perimeter of the compound, and extra vehicular barricades,” said Steets. “In regards to air-restrictions, the FCC determines that not the NRC.”
According to authorities at the NRC, Indian Point#2 reactor would exhaust all of its cooling water in less than 23 minutes, while the #3 reactor would consume all of its water in only 14 minutes.
Some believe any evacuation plan is futile. “It’s a joke. There’s no way that many people could flee this area,” said Sheehan. “Where would people go and how would they get there in the event of a nuclear meltdown or other radioactive release at Indian Point is unclear.”
2002, New York Governor George Pataki commissioned a report on Indian Point’s
evaluation plan. He picked James Lee Witt, the former Rose Law Firm attorney
who served as head of FEMA during the
his report on January 10, 2003, which concluded that Entergy’s off-site evacuation
plans for Indian Point were “woefully inadequate.” Witt wrote: “It is our conclusion
that the current radiological response system and capabilities are not adequate
to overcome their combined weight and protect people from an unacceptable dose
of radiation in the event of a release from Indian Point, especially if the
release is faster or larger than the design basis release.” In the end, Witt
concluded that it was not possible to fix the evacuation plan, given the problems
at the plant, the density of the nearby communities and looming security threats.
New York Governor Pataki’s campaigning vows to close the plant have never come
to fruition nor has New York Senator Hillary Clinton taken substantial legislative
steps to close the plant. Some suggest it may be due to her former Presidential
husband receiving over $100,000 from Entergy, as he climbed his way out of
of a terrorist attack at the Indian Point nuclear power plant has been a source
of great concern for residents and elected officials of the
a study was released that showed an attack on Indian Point could cause up to
518,000 long-term deaths from cancer and up to 44,000 near-term deaths from
acute radiation poisoning, depending on weather conditions. The study was commissioned
by Riverkeeper, a Hudson River-based environmental group. Dr. Edwin Lyman, a
senior staff scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned
Scientists, authored the report entitled “Chernobyl-on-the-Hudson?: The Health
and Economic Impacts of a Terrorist Attack at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant.”
Dr. Lyman calculated with the same computer models and methodology
used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy to analyze
the health and economic impacts of radiological accidents. The study updates
a 1982 congressional report based on Sandia National Laboratories’ CRAC-2 (Calculation
of Reactor Accident Consequences) study. CRAC-2 found that a core meltdown and
consequent radiological release at one of the two operating Indian Point reactors
could cause 50,000 early fatalities from acute radiation syndrome and 14,000
latent fatalities from cancer. Dr. Lyman’s report found that the potential
for early deaths – 44,000 cases – is comparable to the 1982CRAC-2 estimate and
the peak number of latent cancer fatalities – 518,000 cases – is over 35 times
greaterthan the CRAC-2 estimate, corresponding to a scenario where weather conditions
maximize the rain-relatedfallout of radioactivity over
U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine believes President George W. Bush’s victory in last Tuesday’s election is not going to boost efforts for government regulation of private chemical plants.
“With the outcome of this election it is going to be harder to get anything done,” Corzine told The Observer on Monday. “I took the whole issue of chemical plant security very seriously following 9/11. The government had the opportunity to support my bills, but they believe the private companies are doing enough voluntarily to secure their plants.”
Keuhne takes the security of its plant very seriously, but wants more to be
done to protect the company and country. Corzine does not know the specific
makeup of the chlorine plant, but does want Keuhne to enhance its technology
of producing the chemical. Corzine has proposed that the government
pay the chemical companies to move their businesses out of high-risk areas such
“This is one of those places that the federal government would be well advised to provide financial incentives to the plant since it is in such a threatening area,” said Corzine. “My plan has met resistance after lobbyists have gotten to the government. We clearly do not have enough security at plants such as Keuhne. It just seems to me we are at high risk and need to pay more attention.”
Corzine compares the private chemical plants, such as Keuhne, to national power plants throughout the country. The power plants have National Guard and other military branches protecting it from possible terrorist attacks, and he believes the same needs to be done to private plants.
“I am not trying to beat up the company (Keuhne), but the fact is this would not be tolerated at a national power plant.”
The state, county and municipal emergency management offices say they have contingency plans in place should a hazardous materials incident occur at Kuehne, Indian Point or another terrorist target. Any specific plans beyond a pledge to coordinate with each other and other pertinent agencies, however, are hard to discern.
The Essex County Office of Emergency Management, for example, has posted 400 evacuation route signs along 90 miles of county roads in August and September. That county office, said its public information officer Kevin Lynch, also has a thick contingency book.
“We have an 8,000-page book for every natural or man-made situation,” said Lynch. “Every county and municipal OEM has to have one. However, one never knows how to respond to a particular incident until it happens.”
directional signs’ posting by the county and the New Jersey Department of Transportation
may have been the most visible of recent disaster preparation. The trailblazers
are found on such major streets as
are for any disasters,” said Lynch. “Contrary to what some other weekly papers
have written about the signs, they’re not for evacuating people away from
“We go four or five deep with evacuation routes,” said Razzetti. “If something happens where a Route A can’t be used, we have a Route B to redirect traffic on to.”
route signs be installed in
were originally labeled ‘
Coordinator and Fire Chief Thomas Dolaghan said he has seen evacuation route
signs in shoreline towns but has not received any indication about signage from
“I haven’t heard from the county but it seems like a good idea,” said Dolaghan. “If we have to evacuate, we’d likely use Interstate 280 and take that to where the State Police designates as a safe place.”
Dolaghan said he, like other municipal and county coordinators, have a contingency planning book at hand and a copy filed with the State Police. Of the two companies that have or use hazardous materials in town, he said one is a warehouse for a newsprint lubricant. The chief added that his department and other local agencies practice regular emergency preparedness drills among themselves or with the county.
“Two of my
firefighters went to see how the new county decontamination truck is used in
“I can see those signs for along the shore or in flooding areas,” said O’Connor. “My concern is what happens if we have a truck with a chlorine spill and the signs head traffic into the spill site; then the signs would be confusing.”
of questions were about where the routes went to,” said
Indian Point is still a danger to NYC
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.; Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is author of "Crimes Against
Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country
and Hijacking Our Democracy."
October 28, 2004
Imagine a world without
In President George W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address, he warned that
On April 8, 2003, Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, swore under oath during her testimony before the 9/11 Commission that the Bush administration was doing everything in its power to "harden terrorist targets" in the
On Sept. 24, 2003, the General Accounting Office issued a report faulting the administration for failing to bolster nuclear plant security nationwide.
The report cited incidents at the Indian Point nuclear power plant as examples of lax security by the industry - a frightening revelation for the 20 million residents living within 50 miles of the plant. A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that hundreds of thousands could die from a large-scale radioactive release at Indian Point whether by terrorist attack or accident, which could also wreak trillions of dollars in economic damage.
Yet, three years after 9/11, Indian Point still lacks robust security and defense mechanisms to thwart a terrorist attack: There is no no-fly zone. No combat patrols. No anti-aircraft defense. No containment structure over the spent fuel pools. And it has still not been proven that the containment domes over the reactors could withstand the impact of a large airplane or smaller plane loaded with explosives. In fact, in 1982 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's own Atomic Safety and Licensing Board determined that reactor owners "are not required to design against such things ... as kamikaze dives by large airplanes. Reactors could not be effectively protected against such attacks without turning them into virtually impregnable fortresses at much higher cost." In a post-9/11 world, this is a serious problem that should be addressed by President Bush, the Department of Homeland Security and the NRC.
Internal reports by Entergy, which owns and operates Indian Point, show that the plant's private security force is poorly armed, poorly trained and badly demoralized. The GAO found that the federal government deliberately stages softball mock attacks of the facilities to bamboozle the public into believing that Indian Point's anemic defenses are adequate. The Bush administration has resisted efforts by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) to federalize plant security.
Astoundingly, current federal law and nuclear plant permits absolve plant operators from responsibility for safeguarding their facilities against terrorist attacks. The White House, no doubt as a favor to the industry from which it has accepted millions in campaign contributions, has neglected to fix this loophole or to designate a federal agency to take responsibility for protecting the public.
President Bush missed a six-month deadline requiring him to act on the findings of a recent government report commissioned under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 that concluded that "everyone at risk of significant health consequences from accumulation of radioiodine in the thyroid" should have access to potassium iodide. The report recommended that the drug be stored and distributed to those living near nuclear facilities. The federal government has taken only half-hearted measures to supply potassium iodide to those living within the 10-mile emergency planning zone of Indian Point.
While the president continues to present himself as tough on terrorism, he has not protected us against the kind of catastrophic attack that he warned about in his State of the Union address.
John Kerry, in contrast, has vowed to bolster security at both nuclear and chemical plants. That at the minimum would make Indian Point a lot safer than it is now.
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.
October 27, 2004
The Poughkeepsie Journal editorial endorsing Senator Sue Kelly contained two factual errors. First, a nuclear power plant becomes substantially less of a threat fairly soon after shut-down. As per a 2002 analysis conducted by the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), within 20 days following shutdown, the number of acute fatalities (w/in 10 miles) from a core meltdown and breach of containment could be reduced by 80% and the number of long-term cancer deaths (w/in 50 miles) could be reduced by 50%. The simple reason is that the reactor core’s inventory of short-lived radioisotopes is significantly reduced. It is also far more feasible to protect and monitor a facility that is not up and running. This analysis is available at www.nci.org.
The second error is that Sue Kelly did, in fact, call for closure of Indian Point on January 10, 2003, following the release of the Witt Report. She called for the plant to be closed until the emergency plan flaws iterated in the Witt Report were resolved. The vast majority of such flaws have not been corrected. Moreover, as the Witt Report indicated, several major flaws (such as the inadequacy of the regional roadway infrastructure to handle a mass evacuation or the ability of the regional authorities to cope with a fast-release event, which might occur in a terrorist attack scenario) are likely irremediable.
Michel Lee, Esq.
Chairman, Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy
White Plains, New York
grapples with growing safety concerns
Future energy needs could fuel increase in nuclear power
October 6- October 13, 2004
is the second article in a series exploring the nuclear industry
by Rita J. King
The nuclear industry seems poised for a determined comeback as the world's energy needs increase exponentially along with the population.
Dependence on foreign oil has proven to be a slippery slope. Fossil fuels create pollution. Renewable energy sources haven't received the necessary mainstream attention and funding to create viability.
Among the list of power players, nuclear energy stands out to industry supporters as a clean, cheap source of electricity.
But how safe is it?
President George W. Bush ranks among atomic cheerleaders who believe nuclear power can be considered a safe solution to America's energy needs. He strongly advocates the construction of new plants, and in 2002 he designated Yucca Mountain, in the heart of a Nevada desert, as the legal repository for much of the nation's spent nuclear fuel, a highly lethal radioactive substance.
No new building permits have been issued for nuclear plant construction in the United States since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, but that might all change soon, according to industry insider Stephen Rosen, a nuclear engineer currently serving as a consultant for Comanche Peak nuclear power plant in Texas. He also receives a pension from another plant, South Texas Project.
Rosen, 64, is also a member-at-large of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), established in 1957 by Congress. Any matter related to safety in both existing and proposed nuclear facilities passes through the ACRS.
Still, Rosen made it clear he was speaking from a personal perspective, not on behalf of his powerful committee or the NRC.
"If I was king of the world," said Rosen, "I would put the spent fuel in a concrete vault."
While Rosen believes storage at Yucca Mountain would be safe, he doesn't think bunkering the spent fuel so deeply is the wisest plan.
"One hundred years from now, enlightened people might want access to the fuel," Rosen said. "It's not waste. It's an enormous resource for the future. We have enough fuel for all our future needs right there."
The spent fuel, Rosen said, can be utilized in "fast-breeder reactors." Japan, France and Russia currently use this technology, but it was banned in the United States by President Jimmy Carter, who also mandated emergency evacuation plans in 1980 after the accident at Three Mile Island.
"The world should have more nuclear power," Rosen said, citing global warming as one of the reasons.
Spent fuel, he said, isn't a "safety" problem, but rather an economic one. Spent fuel rod pools, he said, are "very safe," and the casks used to store spent fuel when the pools fill up are equally safe, "like vaults."
The facilities built for storage will last long enough to keep the public protected, Rosen said. He cited the duration of the Pyramids in Egypt, constructed thousands of years ago, as proof that even before the benefit of sophisticated technology and engineering, humans were capable of building structures that could withstand the pressure of millennia.
"The only way to hurt those casks is with torches or bombs," Rosen said. "They are guarded night and day. I can't imagine what could hurt the casks short of [an attack], but we're not talking about that."
In February, 1986, a magazine called Soviet Life included a special section on nuclear power in the Soviet Union, in which Ukraine's top energy official touted safety and assured citizens the "odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years."
Two months later, the worst accident in the history of the nuclear industry took place at Chernobyl, when a routine safety test took a deadly turn.
"The first thing pro-nuclear people say is that what happened in Chernobyl can't possibly happen here," said Maryann De Leo, who won an Academy Award for her documentary film, Chernobyl Heart.
The film follows Executive Director of the Chernobyl Children's Project, Adi Roche, as she visits countless children born with severe deformities, such as holes in their hearts, stunted limbs and brains outside their heads.
Kofi Annan, secretary general for the United Nations, said in 2001 the "legacy of Chernobyl will be with us, and our descendants, for generations to come. At least three million children require physical treatment."
A report entitled, "The History of the United Nations and Chernobyl," was released this year. According to this report, 31 people died immediately and 600,000 "liquidators," involved in fire fighting and clean-up operations, were exposed to the high doses of radiation.
Based on the official reports, near 8,400,000 people in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, many of whom are now of childbearing age, were exposed to the radiation.
Radioactive meat and milk are still being consumed in various regions of the former Soviet Union, De Leo said, and objects in uninhabitable regions, such as school desks and chairs, have been looted and resold to unwitting consumers, further spreading radiation.
Instances of certain types of cancer and defects have skyrocketed in the wake of the devastation.
A 20-mile radius around Chernobyl was rendered uninhabitable, and many fear an accident of similar scale at the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan could have equally disastrous consequences, especially since midtown Manhattan is 35 miles away from the facility.
A paper jointly written by a number of prominent scientists, published in Science and Global Security in 2003, states spent fuel rod disaster at a plant like Indian Point could cause contamination problems "significantly worse than those from Chernobyl."
While the reactors are protected by overhead containment structures at Indian Point, the spent fuel rod pools are not.
The Safety Culture
Becoming a whistleblower comes with risk, but also, ideally, with rewards.
But has the industry managed to strike up a balance so the employees themselves feel safe stepping forward?
Times have changed, according to Rosen.
In 1957, Rosen's interest in pursuing a career in science was ignited by the release of Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit earth only to incinerate upon reentry early the next year. He studied chemical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic University and graduated in 1962, at which time the "dangling digit of destiny" reached out to him when he stuck his head into one of the cubes at a job fair to ask why Atomics International was looking for a chemical engineer to work in the field of nuclear science.
Tired of being "poor and cold," in New York, Rosen couldn't resist the lure of southern California, so off he went to start his career. Eventually, he received a full scholarship and earned a Master's Degree in
Among Rosen's many roles in the industry, safety, his current focus, has become the most prominent. He is the one who seems to have modernized the concept of "safety culture," an attitude envisioned for plant administrators, staff and employees, in which safety is prized above all else.
To accomplish this, NRC would have to regulate not just the rules, but the managerial culture at nuclear power plants, an unfamiliar role for a regulatory agency to play.
"We have no insight into the safety culture of the utilities," noted Rosen at a 2003 meeting with ACRS and NRC. At that meeting, a former NRC regional administrator, Thomas E. Murley, reportedly noted in the 1980s, NRC forbid use of the term "safety culture."
"At long last, safety culture is back from the graveyard of forbidden lexicon in this country," Murley said at the meeting.
Among Rosen's many achievements is the honor of having been the first utility employee to work for The Institute of Nuclear Power (INPO), a self-regulating organization set up by the utilities after the accident at Three Mile Island.
The mission, he said, was to find "precursors before they find us." Significant events are evaluated and information is gathered worldwide. INPO then writes to various power plants, Rosen explained, to let them know what they should learn, and then sends teams to plants to be sure they followed up on the lessons.
The key, he said, is to maintain a "safety-conscious work environment," meaning workers must be encouraged to come forward with concerns.
But what about the harassment and persecution of some whistleblowers who attempt to rectify safety violations?
"We're not proud of the record of whistleblower treatment," Rosen conceded.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said "safety culture" is usually only an issue when an incident at a particular nuclear plant warrants further investigation and the NRC works with the plant to develop a heightened emphasis on safety.
"We don't get involved with the day-to-day management of a plant unless we see a decline in performance," Sheehan said, "but if that happens, we have a number of ways we can do that. It's evolving. Our hands are not tied."
The Union of Concerned Scientists is considered the lead watchdog looking out at the nation's 103 nuclear power plants at the NRC. UCS nuclear safety engineer David Lochbaum has said safety risks might well be minimized by the NRC's regulatory power, if only it was correctly enforced and executed.
"An aggressive regulator consistently enforcing federal safety regulations provides the best protection against these risks. Sadly, America lacks such protection. Since UCS began its nuclear safety project nearly three decades ago, we have engaged the NRC…countless times. We advocated enforcement of existing regulations far more often than for adoption of new regulations. By failing to consistently enforce the regulations, the NRC exposes millions of Americans to greater risk than necessary."
An incident at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio, dubbed by Lochbaum as "the reactor with a hole in its head," is an illustration of this concern.
Accidents Do Happen
For years, Lochbaum has been compiling data to support the tenuous nature of nuclear mishaps, accidents and incidents. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl occupy the top slots in public memory, but other events also demonstrate the ease with which accidents sometimes occur, despite all efforts at prevention.
On June 17, 1970, an operator at the LaCrosse nuclear plant in Georgia was cleaning the control room with a dust cloth when it became snagged on a key switch, and shut the plant down. A feather duster became the preventive future tool.
A year later, an Air Force B-2 bomber crashed 20 seconds short of Michigan's Big Rock nuclear plant, killing all nine crew members.
UCS is vigilant not only in monitoring the nation's 103 nuclear plants, but also the NRC, keeping an eye on perceived "failure of regulators to take effective action."
"We are effective," Lochbaum said. "Our actions have resulted in safety regulations being upgraded, in plants being shut down, and in important modifications to plant emergency systems and procedures. But there is much more work to do."
Sometimes accidents span a heartbeat, and sometimes the slow erosion of mechanical equipment takes shape without notice.
"The Davis-Besse plant is a classic example of a plant that went bad," Rosen said.
The reactor core at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio sits within a metal pot. What happened to the reactor vessel is considered one of the worst accidents in the history of the nuclear industry. Water routinely leaked onto the reactor vessel's outer surface, which lacked a protective stainless steel coating. Boric acid ate its way through the carbon steel wall until it reached the backside of the inner liner. High pressure inside the reactor vessel pushed the stainless steel outward into the cavity formed by the boric acid.
In March 2002, the problem was officially recognized, but warning signs had been ignored for years. The mess cost $600 million to clean up.
"Davis-Besse didn't happen overnight," Rosen said. "There were lots of warnings, missed by everybody. We've analyzed the data, and my answer is not universally accepted by everybody. Their safety culture degraded. No matter how many safety regulations are thrown at the plants, they still have to do the right thing when challenged."
The Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania was the site of the worst American nuclear plant disaster when it experienced a loss of coolant accident in March 1979. Emergency pumps automatically started to replace the water flowing from the leak. Operators turned off the pumps because instruments falsely indicated too much water in the reactor vessel. Within two hours, the reactor core overheated and partially melted, triggering the evacuation of nearly 150,000 people.
Westchester residents have become familiar with emergency shutdowns at Indian Point, sparked by a range of causes from a fire to a blown steam tube.
Riverkeeper Senior Policy Analyst Kyle Rabin said there are several important issues dogging Indian Point, resulting in 400 public officials signing up to demand closure. Low employee morale, fearful employees keeping safety hazards secret and a backlog of maintenance are troubling, he said.
Small screens over the sump pumps could be a disaster, Rabin said. Riverkeeper filed a petition with NRC last September to seek a remedy, because, Rabin contended, a "loss of coolant accident could lead to sump pumps being clogged with debris, ultimately leading to a meltdown."
NRC denied the petition for plant closure and gave Indian Point's parent company, Entergy, a 2007 deadline for rectifying the hazard.
"So the public has to live with this for several more years," Rabin noted, "because NRC doesn't want to burden Entergy with the cost."
"You don't change the light bulbs in your house before they stop working," Rosen said, adding that is also the case for routine equipment and parts at nuclear plants while other, more crucial aspects of operation, are "replaced before they fail."
Three separate consortiums have formed, Rosen said, with plans to construct three new nuclear plants by 2010, helping to fulfill President Bush's "Nuclear Power 2010" program, which entails the government and industry sharing the costs of getting new plants online in the next six years.
The new plants, Rosen said, will be "much safer."
"The future of the industry is very exciting, if you're a nuclear person," Rosen said. "Nuclear power can power the future of the world."
While the issues of the Indian Point nuclear power plant raised by Rory Kennedy ("A Target on the Hudson," Op-Ed, Sept. 5) certainly warrant close review, and the impact on our region of virtually any mishap there would be one of great harm, the first suggestion she makes - a no-flight zone - is a red herring.
Prohibited airspace at Indian Point, say a five-mile ring, would do only two things. First, it would, to a degree, disable flight patterns in the region, particularly to Westchester County Airport (and conceivably make flight patterns more concentrated to the south and east of the airport), not to mention create consequential delays in peak periods and bad weather. In part, this is because a key bad-weather arrival route, its path dictated by the alignment of the primary runway, crosses the region east of (but not over) Indian Point.
Second, if prohibited airspace went in only at Indian Point, it would raise the question of why such zones are not installed at the 103 other plants around the nation. Doing so would create a patchwork of aerial roadblocks that could inhibit air transportation and close airports nationally.
Of most consequence, however, is that such a prohibited area would be useless, because a jet entering such airspace with the intent of an attack would be, in relatively few seconds, upon its target. If somebody in government wants to establish, say, a 30-mile zone that closes several airports, has missiles ready 24 hours a day, and where any airplane or airliner entering that zone is immediately shot out of the sky, including airplanes that end up there inadvertently through navigation error or equipment malfunction, then let him or her propose such a Draconian solution.
The writer is a director of the Westchester Aviation Association.
Published: November 2, 2004
The agency, which approved the increase in capacity, or "uprate," on Thursday, based its decision on a determination that the plant could safely increase output primarily by upgrading minor components, a commission spokesman said on Friday.
The agency had published a notice about the uprate application in the Federal Register, inviting opponents of the plant to request a hearing or file a comment challenging an increase, but no one intervened, said the spokesman, Neil Sheehan.
Alex Matthiessen, the executive director of Riverkeeper, an environmental group that has sought to shut down Indian Point's two operational reactors, said he chose not to protest the application. "We didn't have the staff time to devote to it," he said Friday. "You have to pick your battles."
Safety experts have questioned the nuclear industry's use of uprates to increase capacity at existing plants. In the past two decades, total output nationally has been increased by the equivalent of three large reactors without building any new plants.
Mr. Sheehan said that since 1977, the commission had approved 101 power upgrades of between 1 and 20 percent at nuclear power plants in the United States.
They have been granted with almost no opposition, though critics contend that the uprates, on top of extensions of operating licenses, could imperil safety.
The Indian Point 2 reactor, the one that received uprate approval last week, had three unplanned shutdowns in September because of equipment malfunctions, said a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the plant's owner.
"When you increase capacity to these plants, you are no doubt adding pressure on the existing facility," Mr. Matthiessen said.
But plant owners and regulators contend that they are modernizing in a way that improves safety.
Entergy plans to put the increase into effect after the plant's fall refueling operation, which is currently under way, Mr. Sheehan said.
The last uprate at Indian Point 2, of 1.4 percent, was in 2003; its sister reactor, Indian Point 3, received an uprate of 1.4 percent in 2002. An application to increase the capacity of Indian Point 3 by 4.85 percent is being reviewed. Indian Point 1 closed in the 1970's.
Journal News Editorial
Original publication: September 20, 2005
Unfortunately, not all the silly stuff we read is on the comics pages. In the clumsy aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some county government officials recently waxed confident about evacuation plans for these northern suburbs. Almost made us spill our coffee. In quick succession, some heavy doses of reality intervened, enough to spur this thought: Don't look at backward New Orleans as some kind of anomaly, something we couldn't replicate in an emergency.
First the funnies, from an article last week
"The longer the time, the easier it is. As tragic as 9/11 was and as dangerous as I believe Indian Point is, the planning that we've undergone to take care of situations like those certainly has given us more skills that we had in the past," said Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, quoted in an article headlined, "Counties' officials confident area could be evacuated."
"With events like the 1996 blizzard and Hurricane Floyd, we've had to deal with these kinds of emergencies. They certainly were not on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, but we know we have troubles. Our teams are more cohesive, and we have the ability to respond better. We also have well-organized relationships with both the state and federal governments because of Indian Point. We've had to work on that coordination," said Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef in the same report.
Pardon us, but aren't these reassuring officials the same county leaders who, with their counterpart in Orange County, properly refused in recent years to sign off on Indian Point-inspired evacuation plans — for the expressed reason that the plans were inherently flawed and that it would be impossible to evacuate such a densely populated region? "It proved to be irrelevant, and there is no purpose in signing it," Vanderhoef once said of the plan.
And don't these officials preside over the same counties that former FEMA Director James Lee Witt concluded in 2002, after evaluating said evacuation plan, could not be evacuated safely in a nuclear emergency? Just checking. We know that emergency officials throughout the region since 9/11 have redoubled efforts to heighten disaster preparedness. But continuing experience on local roads still screams that we are never more than a flat-tire removed from bedlam — and that's without the burdens of flooding, terrorism, nuclear mishap or even after-Mets game traffic. Why not be up front about that?
A dose of reality came a week ago today, in a fiery traffic accident on the Tappan Zee Bridge. It brought Rockland- and Westchester-bound bridge traffic to a standstill for an hour and a half.
"After 27 years of commuting," Valley Cottage resident Peter Bernhart, who works in Ardsley, told a reporter while stopped on the Route 9 Thruway overpass in Tarrytown, "I have at least 14 shortcuts to get to the bridge. I tried all of them . . . and as you can see, we're not going anywhere."
That's the region we know and love, socking it to the rich and poor alike. Mid-week brought more familiarity and more reality — a report by members of the 9/11 Commission, who helpfully pointed out the obvious — that the nation had failed to act on key reforms (bad communication, poor planning, etc.) suggested by the panel, contributing to the kind of government incompetency seen on the Gulf Coast region. Another report out last week noted communications short circuits in the New York Fire Department — the same kind of communications foul-ups that compounded the suffering on 9/11.
And yet another study, by Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky's Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, faulted New York City's evacuation plans. It was what you might expect: MTA bus drivers unaware of their assigned evacuation responsibilities, residents unaware of shelter options, insufficient plans for moving the sick or elderly. When something goes tragically wrong in New York City, the dominoes would strike which suburban counties first?
But this just in: Officials on Sunday, just four years after 9/11, announced a $6 million federal grant that will create a radio frequency that connects emergency responders in New York City with each other and with suburban counties, including Westchester.
"One of the lessons we learned four years ago was the need for a regional approach to addressing large-scale disasters," New York City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said.
Somehow, we are not yet enthused.
Indian Point Emergency Planning
To the Editor:
the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the inadequacies and poor judgments of
FEMA under Michael Brown became fatally obvious. Because of that pitiful
performance, Governor Blanco of
that emergency planning for the Indian Point nuclear plant is once again under
review, it is worth remembering that James Lee Witt Associates was hired by
For any new review to be valid, deficiencies outlined by the Witt Report must be addressed. These include inadequate roadways, no plan for latchkey kids who would be home without parental guidance, the likelihood that citizens will act independently in their perceived self-interest rather than follow plan protocols and shadow evacuation of people outside the 10-mile zone. Many of these problems are not fixable. Like the flood, Indian Point is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Croton on Hudson, NY
THE NEW YORK TIMES
September 14, 2004
Officials Can't Say Nukes Safe From Terror
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 5:06 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot independently verify that every nuclear power plant is taking required safeguards to protect against a terrorist threat, congressional investigators said Tuesday.
Senior NRC officials strongly challenged that assessment and said the agency, through onsite inspectors and other activities, is aggressively monitoring security compliance at the nation's 103 reactors at 65 sites.
The Government Accountability Office told a House subcommittee that the NRC's monitoring of reactor security has been largely ``a paper review'' that falls short of assuring that industry security plans are meeting the more stringent requirements now demanded.
At the same time, the GAO, which is the auditing arm of Congress, said critical ``force-on-force'' mock attacks to physically test security at the plants will not be completed at all facilities until late 2007.
``It will take several more years for NRC to make an independent determination that each plant has taken reasonable and appropriate steps to protect against the (terrorist) threat presented,'' GAO investigator Jim Well told a House Government Reform subcommittee on national security.
NRC officials, who also testified before the panel, strongly disputed the GAO assessment and said the agency has increased inspection hours at the power plants fivefold and has physically reviewed 80 percent of the security items plant operators must address.
``We have inspectors (at the plants) all the time,'' said Luis Reyes, the NRC's executive director for operations. ``We are there where the rubber meets the road when it comes to inspections.''
The GAO report also criticized the NRC for ``not following up to verify that all violations of security requirements have been corrected'' and for not filing official reports on all such incidents.
At least two NRC inspectors are assigned to each of the 65 commercial nuclear power plant sites in 31 states. Reyes acknowledged they have broad responsibilities and do not file written reports on all security shortcomings -- only ``the more significant ones.''
Those viewed as of ``low level'' importance are evaluated on a sample basis, he said. ``It's a matter of resources.''
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the subcommittee, said there still ``is no reasonable assurance plants are adequately protected'' even though the NRC in April 2003 developed new standards as to what kinds of potential terrorist attacks plant operators must be prepared to repel.
He accused the NRC and industry of trying to ``minimize the risks'' of a terrorist attack that could lead to a radiation release and accepting ``a cozy, indulgent regulatory process that looks and acts very much like business as usual.''
That brought an emotional response from Roy Zimmerman, head of the NRC's security office, who said he was concerned that lawmakers were assuming the NRC is not paying attention to security.
``We're laying awake at night. We've very concerned,'' Zimmerman said. ``We're constantly looking and working very long hours to get out ahead of those that want to do us harm. We're not lackadaisical.''
In separate testimony, nuclear industry representatives said utilities have spent more than $1 billion on security improvements and increased security forces by 60 percent, hiring 3,000 additional officers, since the Sept. 11, 2001 , attacks.
``Nuclear power plants are the most secure commercially owned facilities in the country,'' said Marvin Fertel, senior vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry trade group.
Among the improvements cited were expansion of security perimeters around plants, more patrols within security zones, installation of new barriers to protect against vehicle bombs, installation of high-tech surveillance equipment, increased communications and coordination with local, state and federal police authorities. The NRC also has required plants to conduct force-on-force mock drills once every three years, instead of once every eight years as required before 2001.
On the Net:
Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://www.nrc.gov
Nuclear Energy Institute: http://www.nei.org
Whistling past the graveyard on Indian Point's security
By PHIL REISMAN
(Original publication: September 12, 2004)
Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the corporate officials of Entergy Northeast and their political proxies have insisted that Indian Point was more than adequately prepared to thwart a terrorist attack.
For three years and a day, they have pounded into our heads a public relations mantra that the aging power plants are "safe, secure and vital" and that a "robust" veil of protection was in place to deter an assault from the air, land and sea.
Whenever anyone disagreed, they blurred their message with "Dear Neighbor" letters of denial and obfuscation.
Whenever anyone presented evidence suggesting that Entergy-on-Hudson was, in fact, dangerously vulnerable to the whims of al-Qaida and that a well-aimed, fully fueled kamikaze jet could penetrate the concrete enclosures and cause a nuclear disaster, they frequently killed the messenger.
When an independent study commissioned by the governor himself said there was no way that a quick and orderly evacuation could be achieved in the event of a massive release of radiation, they discredited the experts, played dumb and finally said, in effect, "Hey, not my job, boss."
Don't worry, they said, we know best. Don't listen to the fear mongers, the misinformed alarmists and Chicken Littles. We're on the job. The nuke plant is safe and secure.
But was it?
While the Republicans were gassing on and on during their convention about how the nation's security couldn't be trusted in the hands of John Kerry, two facts came to light about how poorly protected Indian Point has been for the past 36 months.
turns out that during most of that period there was no permanent patrol boat
stationed in the
As it happened, both of these glaring deficiencies were corrected a day after the GOP convention adjourned. Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining, whose district includes the Buchanan plant, announced that the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs will soon have a boat to patrol the waters and, thanks to legislation she co-sponsored, the guards will finally be permitted to use deadly force.
about it. Think about how many Code Orange scares have come and gone since the
The Bush Republicans talk the talk about homeland security. Dick Cheney all but said that a vote for Kerry is tantamount to a vote for Osama bin Laden. But when it came to adequately defending a nuclear power plant that sits 40 miles upriver from Ground Zero, these big talkers were asleep at the switch. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Indian Point was essentially guarded by a slow-moving buoy tender, a few National Guardsmen, a small suburban police force and a security crew that wasn't allowed to shoot.
Here's a question for the wild-eyed Zell Miller: What were they supposed to use, spitballs?
and a day after the towers fell, we know at least a couple of things. We know
that Mohamed Atta, the Saudi terrorist who led the Sept. 11 attacks, considered
striking a nuclear power facility near
More measures need to be taken.
Riverkeeper, the nonprofit organization and perhaps the most vocal opponent of Indian Point, is pushing for the placement of stationery water barriers that would impede incoming vessels and serve as a 24-hour-a-day supplement to the boat patrols. The group also is calling for the installation of something called "Beamhenge," a system of vertical steel beams and cables that would be constructed like a protective web over the plant's nuclear containment domes and spent fuel pools. Beamhenge is supposedly designed to fragment a jet attack.
And it's relatively cheap, points out Alex Matthiesen, Riverkeeper's director. "Cheap," incidentally, may be the operative word when it comes to Indian Point. For if we're truly in an all-out war here at home, as the Code Orangemen keep telling us, then how do we employ the necessary discipline to ensure the protection of a potential terrorist target that is privately owned by a company whose bottom-line priorities may supersede the interests of the public at large? Matthiesen pointed out that the license to run Indian Point specifically exempts Entergy from being responsible for security.
So who is responsible? Three years and a day later, that question still isn't answered to anyone's satisfaction.
risk of Indian Point
By Stephen Kiehl
September 9, 2004
The terrorists who hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2001, used the Hudson River as a navigational point to find
They flew over fields and farmland and past the Indian Point nuclear power plant, 35 miles north of midtown
A new documentary by Rory Kennedy asks: What if the terrorists following the river had banked left and hit Indian Point?
Kennedy's film, Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable (8 tonight on HBO), examines the vulnerability of Indian Point to an air or a ground attack, finds its defenses inadequate and argues that the health risks posed by the plant are so grave that it should be shut down.
Indian Point will be immediately followed on HBO by Chernobyl Heart, a powerful and painful film that focuses on the legacy of cancer and disease left by the 1986 explosion at the
The specter of Chernobyl hangs over Kennedy's film, aided by a graphic showing the extent of Chernobyl 's radiation hot spots superimposed over a map of the Northeast United States . The hot spots spread through six states:
Experts say that what went wrong at
In a recent phone interview, Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, said she had not thought much about that possibility until Sept. 11.
"I lived in
The nuclear reactors at Indian Point are housed in two containment domes with cement walls up to 5 feet thick. The question of whether those domes could withstand a direct hit by a 767 with a full tank of fuel cannot be definitively answered. The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says in the film that such a breach is highly unlikely.
A more pressing issue are the pools of water containing 1,400 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods. Those advocating to shut down the plant, including Rory Kennedy's brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., say the spent fuel is highly vulnerable and not well protected.
The film describes a nightmarish scenario in which a terrorist group manages to drain the spent fuel pools, perhaps by firing an explosive device at their base. Then the metal cladding on the hottest spent fuel rods could ignite, starting a fire and the release of the radioactive waste Cesium-137, leading to the formation of a radioactive cloud that could float downriver to New York .
"Imagine a world without
Rory Kennedy says she went into the film without an agenda. But she came out of it believing that even though there are ways to make Indian Point safer and better protected from terrorists, there are no absolutes.
"I'm not saying it's likely there will be a major radioactive release, but the fact that it might happen is just not worth it," she says. "It's not worth killing all these people and causing billions of dollars of damage and making an area of the Eastern Seaboard uninhabitable."
Following Indian Point with Chernobyl Heart, which won the Academy Award for documentary short last year, makes a persuasive and disturbing statement. The film follows Adi Roche, founder of
Standing near the remains of the
"I'm terrified. I really am. I really am," Roche says. "But I'm actually more emotional than terrified, to think that innocuous little complex over there, that building, has caused the destruction of 9 million lives, half of which are children under the age of 5."
The images in the film are heartbreaking - children with brains growing outside of their heads, with deformed arms and legs they cannot use, with multiple holes in their hearts, lying helpless in beds and cribs - and they are backed up by awful statistics.
According to the film: In Gomel, a city less than 50 miles from
A team of American doctors travels to
Copyright (c) 2004, The
Link to the article:
Filmmakers Examining the 'What Ifs' of Nuclear Power
By NANCY RAMSEY
Published: September 8, 2004
Cesium-137 is not your usual topic for a Midtown Manhattan lunch. But if you sit down with Maryann De Leo and Rory Kennedy, who have completed documentaries on the effects on children of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 (Ms. De Leo) and the Indian Point power plant in Buchanan, N.Y. (Ms. Kennedy), it is not long before the subject comes up. (Cesium-137 is radioactive waste, an isotope produced when uranium or plutonium undergoes fission.)
The women, who had not met before, quickly dispensed with the social niceties. Ms. Kennedy complimented Ms. De Leo on her film, which she said she found heartbreaking, then took 15 seconds to show a photo of her second daughter, born six weeks earlier. Ms. De Leo invited Ms. Kennedy to a reception her brother Dominic was organizing in honor of the films, which will be broadcast back-to-back by HBO tomorrow night.
Ms. De Leo said she too had proposed films to HBO about Indian Point and AIDS, a subject Ms. Kennedy tackled with "Pandemic: Facing AIDS," a five-part series for HBO last year. But Ms. Kennedy, being a Kennedy - she is Robert F. Kennedy's youngest daughter, born after his death - was able to secure outside funds more readily.
Menus in hand, the women quickly and nearly simultaneously dismissed tuna as a possible choice: "Mercury, " they said.
Ms. De Leo's film "Chernobyl Heart," which won the 2003 Academy Award for best documentary short, is not easy to talk about or watch. It takes the viewer into children's hospitals in Belarus and Ukraine and into the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the reactor. According to the United Nations, birth defects in Belarus have increased 250 percent since the accident, and the lives of the children in the film are tragic.
One girl, Julia, was born with her brain outside her skull; another child, 4, is the size of a 4-month-old.
"I had to show enough of the kids with deformities, but if I showed too many, nobody would want to watch," Ms. De Leo said.
Ms. Kennedy's "Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable" takes a less emotional approach. It features interviews with the plant's detractors (including her brother Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chief prosecutor for Riverkeeper, an environmental- protection group) and a few defenders. Ms. Kennedy, who narrates the film, begins with questions: what if American Airlines Flight 11, navigating along the Hudson valley on Sept. 11, had banked left and hit Indian Point, rather than continuing south to the World Trade Center? Is enough being done to protect Americans from terrorists at home?
Both women offered a quick and categorical no when asked if they considered their films anti-nuclear power.
"I don't believe in making didactic films," said Ms. De Leo, born in Brooklyn, one of six children of a sanitation worker. Her television documentary work has taken her to Vietnam, El Salvador, Cuba, Afghanistan, Angola, Korea and Iraq.
The idea for "Chernobyl Heart" was planted when a friend visiting from Spain suggested that Ms. De Leo see a United Nations photography exhibition about the children of Chernobyl. "It was the most shocking thing he'd ever seen," she said. "I had really forgotten about Chernobyl. I hadn't thought about birth defects there, and at the time I was working on a film about Bellevue," the Manhattan hospital.
But in 2002 Ms. De Leo went to Belarus. She would return two more times, at one point requiring treatment for cesium poisoning herself.
"Indian Point has much more cesium than Chernobyl had," Ms. Kennedy interjected. "Being in New York City on 9/11, and in the aftermath, there was a lot of concern about where the next terrorist attack would be - Indian Point, bridges and tunnels, waterways, chemical plants. There was a disproportionate amount of fear, some of it grounded, some not. I went into this project with the question, is Indian Point something we need to fear?"
Ms. De Leo asked her about Indian Point's safety record ("horrible," Ms. Kennedy said); both agreed on the impossibility of evacuating millions in the event of an accident. Ms. Kennedy talked about the inability of guards to protect the plant adequately because of the stress and long hours detailed in the film. Located on the Hudson, the "exterior is screaming 'hit me,' " she said. "It's extremely vulnerable by water."
In the film Mr. Kennedy contends that the pools of water holding spent fuel rods, which contain more than 1,400 tons of spent nuclear fuel, are most vulnerable. His claims are followed by an interview with a scientist from the Union of Concerned Scientists, who details a potential terrorist attack, beginning with an explosive charge interfering with the rods' coolants and ending with the release of cesium-137 into the air.
In the film such criticisms are countered by representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a federal agency, and the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade association, who describe the robust structures housing the reactors, the stepped-up security after 9/11 and the extreme unlikelihood of an attack of the magnitude Ms. Kennedy suggests.
Jim Steets, a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns the two plants at Indian Point, is not interviewed in the film but defended the business in a phone interview. "There has never been an event at Indian Point causing dangerous releases of radioactivity," he said. "The plants are heavily regulated by the N.R.C." Since 9/11, he added, the commission has limited the number of hours a guard is allowed to work, and Entergy "has spent well over $30 million on enhancing security at Indian Point."
Those outside the industry also propose nuclear energy as a viable power source, given the environmental hazards of burning fossil fuels and the political ramifications of relying on Middle East oil. A recent interdisciplinary study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that "the nuclear option should be retained precisely because it is an important carbon-free source of power."
Spencer R. Weart, a historian at the American Institute of Physics and author of "Nuclear Fear: A History of Images" (Harvard University Press, 1988) offers a context for examining the nuclear option - and, perhaps, for watching these films.
"All industrial systems are liable to accidents, and we have to ask ourselves, where is the most likely damage over the long term?" he said in a telephone interview. "Every energy source has its problems. Bangladesh has been in the news because of the terrible flooding there. This is what will happen increasingly with global warming. The longtime consequences of burning fossil fuels are more severe than nuclear power. Let's say I'm less a proponent of nuclear power than an opponent of coal and oil."
Listening to such arguments, Ms. Kennedy nodded and said, "I would have said that before I made this film."
Scientists also have strong views about the fairness of comparing the Chernobyl disaster to what could happen in this country "Chernobyl was a terrible tragedy," Robert A. Bari, a physicist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., said in a phone conversation. "It happened because they operated the reactor out of its specifications. And Indian Point has a very, very different design than the Chernobyl reactor."
For Ms. Kennedy and Ms. De Leo, who are passionate about their subjects, such arguments have little resonance. Ms. De Leo recalled a warning a Russian scientist made to Americans, imploring them to shut down nuclear plants.
Ms. Kennedy said, "You can't throw numbers and statistics at children born with brains outside their heads." Such debates would not be resolved at a two-and-a-half-hour lunch. Running late for a 3 p.m. meeting, she added, "I don't think there is another side to the conversation."
NEW YORK TIMES
Group Says Terror Attack on Indian Point Would Be Apocalyptic
By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: September 8, 2004
WASHINGTON , Sept. 7 - A group campaigning to shut the Indian Point nuclear plant is firing new broadsides against the reactors, releasing a report on Wednesday that asserts that a successful terrorist attack could cause apocalyptic damage.
The group, Riverkeeper, is also appearing in a documentary to be broadcast on HBO on Thursday that makes the same arguments.
The report claims that a terrorist attack on the reactors, in Buchanan, N.Y., 35 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, could kill 44,000 people in a few days, at a range of up to 60 miles, and 500,000 more over decades through cancer, and cost $2.1 trillion.
The report discusses several possibilities, including a kamikaze jet attack that weakens the containment dome and damages enough equipment to interfere with cooling at the same time as the emergency diesel generators are disabled and the plant is disconnected from the electric grid.
But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff said that the Riverkeeper report misused commission studies on radiation transport and that a significant radiation release, especially one that spread contamination more than a few miles, required multiple failures that were highly unlikely to occur.
Eliot Brenner, a spokesman for the commission, said: "We think that there are some serious flaws in the logic and analysis of the Riverkeeper study. Even the title sort of suggests this is intended for sensationalism, not sound science." The Riverkeeper report is titled "
The report is a more detailed statement of a case presented in a documentary that is scheduled to be broadcast by HBO at 8 p.m. on Thursday, "Indian Point: Imagining the Unthinkable." The documentary was produced by Rory Kennedy, whose brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is a lawyer who works for Riverkeeper. It was written by Edwin S. Lyman, a nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who appears in the documentary.
A spokesman for the group said that Mr. Kennedy had planned to send a light plane over the plant on Tuesday to demonstrate its vulnerability to air attack but had to settle for releasing about 30 rubber ducks from a boat near the cooling water intake on the
The report says radiation doses could be reduced if the commission broadened its plans for evacuating or sheltering the public to a distance of 50 miles, up from the 10 miles in the current plan. That distance increases the population to be evacuated to about 20 million, compared with about 300,000 in the current plans.
But Alex Matthiessen, the executive director of Riverkeeper, said that expanding the evacuation area was not the real goal. "Evacuating an area with 17 to 20 million people in it seems fairly hopeless to me," he said. "It begs the question, why do we still have a nuclear power plant 24 miles from
The commission bases its requirements for planning for evacuation and sheltering within 10 miles in part on the low probability of a mechanical failure or error, but Mr. Lyman's report dismisses this basis.
"N.R.C. can no longer shy away from confronting the worst-case consequences of terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants," he writes. "And perhaps the most attractive target in the country, where the consequences are likely to be the greatest, is Indian Point."
In an interview, Mr. Lyman said that emergency planning for evacuation and shelter had been limited to 10 miles because of the commission's "fear that going any further would turn public acceptance or toleration of Indian Point against them." He said that after the attacks of 9/11, that attitude was dangerous.
But Dan Dorman, the commission's deputy director of nuclear reactor security, said that the high radiation doses postulated in the study depended upon an unusual weather pattern at the time of release from the plant, and that to have the release in the first place, no matter what the weather, required "what-if, upon what-if, upon what-if."
He and others on the commission staff said that Mr. Lyman's worst-case sequence of events would require clouds and rain to deliver extremely high doses of radiation that was released from the plant. But clear weather would be needed for a plane to find the plant, and to prevent the radioactive material from being washed out of the air until it reached more densely populated places. They also said that physical security at the plant had improved, and that terrorists were unlikely to be able to hijack another big jet.
A key part of the Riverkeeper argument is that a major radiation release during an accident would require multiple failures that are unlikely to be simultaneous, but that a well-organized terrorist attack would seek to disable back-up systems.
NEW YORK TIMES
September 5, 2004
A Target on the Hudson
By RORY KENNEDY
Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan is just 35 miles from
How is this
possible? There is a no-flight zone over
as that is, it's only one of the many safety problems, which suggest that Indian
Point is an anachronism in an age of terrorism, and that we are not doing enough
to defend against disaster. For example, not only is Indian Point unsafe from
the air, but it is also vulnerable by land and water: the
the prospect of a radiation release at Indian Point raises the specter of
Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry contend that a release of radiation
on the scale of
Although containment domes around nuclear generators may be the most obvious terrorist targets at the plant, critics maintain that the storage pools for highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel are even more vulnerable and could release lethal amounts of radioactivity. According to a 1982 Congressional report - the most recent conducted - a major release at Indian Point could kill tens of thousands of residents and cause billions of dollars in damage.
In 2002, Gov.
George Pataki commissioned a former Federal Emergency Management Association
director, James Lee Witt, to evaluate Indian Point's emergency evacuation plans
independently. Mr. Witt concluded that the evacuation plans were seriously flawed,
and that they failed to consider the possibility of a fast-breaking release
of radiation brought on by a terrorist attack. In response to the Witt report,
three of the four counties that surround the plant - Westchester ,
Not enough people from both political parties - and not even Entergy, the plant owner - are talking about this. And yet, it seems both self-evident and essential that we engage in a public dialogue about the future of the plant and its security. It is a matter of enormous concern for all New Yorkers, as well as the rest of the nation.
We need to ask ourselves: What is the rationale for keeping the plant open? Critics maintain we don't need the 2,000 megawatts of power generated by Indian Point. We can replace the power with efficient gas-fired plants and alternative sources of energy like solar and wind with minimal impact on reliability and prices.
Just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I walked along the West Side Highway a few blocks from where I lived, trying to make sense of all that had happened. Of course, there were no easy answers that day. In particular, though, I remember overhearing one exhausted rescue worker say to a friend, "I hope next time - if there ever is a next time - that we're prepared." At Indian Point, three years after 9/11, I do not believe that we are.
Rory Kennedy is the director of the HBO documentary "Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable."
film reveals Indian Point nuclear plant
Disneyland , Walt Disney World and the Super Bowl are all official no-fly
zones in the terror age, the Indian Point nuclear power plant - 35 miles
north of midtown
"If Indian Point is ever attacked, some 20 million people within a 50-mile radius could be affected," says Rory Kennedy, director of "Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable," which debuts on HBO Thursday at 8 p.m.
In this scary documentary, Kennedy - unquestioned and undeterred - hovers above the nuclear plant in a helicopter with her environmental activist brother Robert Kennedy Jr.
"My feeling is that the electricity we generate out of this plant is just not worth the ongoing risks," says Ms. Kennedy, whose previous documentaries include 1999's "American Hollow." "By their own admission the private security force that Entergy Corp. [the New Orleans-based owner of the plant] has hired to protect Indian Point from an air, ground or boat attack is inadequate."
The film presents the 40-year-old plant, which stores thousands of gallons of radioactive spent fuel, as a time bomb waiting to go off. Local police officials say there is no effective evacuation plan in the event of an attack or accident.
[was living] 20 blocks north of the
her film, Kennedy interviews federal bureaucrats, nuclear experts, environmental
activists and politicians. But an Entergy spokesman offers no comment.
Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg decline interviews. So do
and Bloomberg are local pols. But this is a national security issue screaming
for federal attention. While
Asked why she thinks Schumer and Clinton declined to speak to her, Kennedy says, "I think that they are probably ashamed that they haven't done enough. That it's clearly an issue Schumer and Clinton should be more proactive on. That it's in the public interest for them to take an active stance on this issue, and that they haven't done that. So they don't have a record to defend."
Blake Zeff, a Schumer spokesman says, "Chuck Schumer is a leading advocate for increasing safety at Indian Point and has been a clear and outspoken advocate for several years. Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate every documentary that comes our way."
"Senator Clinton has a strong record on addressing safety and security issues related to Indian Point and is committed to continue to work closely with the community to raise awareness," says Jennifer Hanley, a Clinton spokeswoman.
"Senator Clinton respects Rory Kennedy and values her work as a documentary filmmaker. It was not possible for her to participate in this project."
"Are we doing everything we can to protect Indian Point?" asks Kennedy. "Absolutely not."
Immediately following "Indian Point," HBO will air Maryann DeLeo's Oscar-winning documentary short, "Chernobyl Heart," which examines the horrifying medical aftermath of the 1986 explosion at the Ukrainian nuclear power plant.
See these films back to back, and you will be afraid. Very afraid.
Nuclear power still a deadly proposition
By Helen Caldicott
WHILE VICE PRESIDENT Dick Cheney is actively promoting nuclear power as a significant plank in his energy plan, he claims that nuclear power is "a safe, clean and very plentiful energy source."
The Nuclear Energy Institute, the policy organization of the nuclear energy and technologies industries, is currently running an energetic campaign for the revivification of nuclear power. Ubiquitous TV and radio ads carry the admonition that "Kids today are part of the most energy-intensive generation in history. They demand lots of clean electricity. And they deserve clean air."
Also, a consortium of 10 U.S. utilities has requested funding from the federal government for the construction of new reactors based on a European design, and they hope to receive government approval by 2010. This is a major policy change since no new nuclear reactors have been ordered in the United States since 1974.
Nevertheless, the claims of the Mr. Cheney and the nuclear industry are false. According to data from the U.S. Energy Department (DOE), the production of nuclear power significantly contributes both to global warming and ozone depletion.
The enrichment of uranium fuel for nuclear power uses 93 percent of the refrigerant chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gas made annually in the United States. The global production of CFC is banned under the Montreal Protocol because it is a potent destroyer of ozone in the stratosphere, which protects us from the carcinogenic effects of solar ultraviolet light. The ozone layer is now so thin that the population in Australia is currently experiencing one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world.
CFC compounds are also potent global warming agents 10,000 to 20,000 times more efficient heat trappers than carbon dioxide, which itself is responsible for 50 percent of the global warming phenomenon.
But nuclear power also contributes significantly to global carbon dioxide production. Huge quantities of fossil fuel are expended for the "front end" of the nuclear fuel cycle -- to mine, mill and enrich the uranium fuel and to construct the massive nuclear reactor buildings and their cooling towers.
Uranium enrichment is a particularly energy intensive process which uses electricity generated from huge coal-fired plants. Estimates of carbon dioxide production related to nuclear power are available from DOE for the "front end" of the nuclear fuel cycle, but prospective estimates for the "back end" of the cycle have yet to be calculated.
Tens of thousands of tons of intensely hot radioactive fuel rods must continuously be cooled for decades in large pools of circulating water and these rods must then be carefully transported by road and rail and isolated from the environment in remote storage facilities in the United States. The radioactive reactor building must also be decommissioned after 40 years of operation, taken apart by remote control and similarly transported long distances and stored. Fully 95 percent of U.S. high level waste -- waste that is intensely radioactive -- has been generated by nuclear power thus far.
This nuclear waste must then be guarded, protected and isolated from the environment for tens of thousands of years -- a physical and scientific impossibility. Biologically dangerous radioactive elements such as strontium 90, cesium 137 and plutonium will seep and leak into the water tables and become very concentrated in food chains for the rest of time, inevitably increasing the incidence of childhood cancer, genetic diseases and congenital malformations for this and future generations.
Conclusion: Nuclear power is neither clean, green nor safe. It is the most biologically dangerous method to boil water to generate steam for the production of electricity.
Helen Caldicott, a pediatrician, is president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute and author of The New Nuclear Danger, George Bush's Military Industrial Complex (The New Press). She lives near Sydney, Australia.
"Nuclear Policy Research Institute" firstname.lastname@example.org
THE NEW YORK TIMES
June 20, 2004
INDIAN POINT: A DIALOGUE
A Pretend Response to a Pretend Emergency
By RICHARD L. BRODSKY
THE risk of a major release of radiation from the Indian Point nuclear power plants is small, but the consequences would be extraordinary, permanent and catastrophic. Put aside whether Indian Point is cheaper (it actually isn't - taxpayer subsidies for waste disposal, insurance, pollution controls and emergency planning merely make it seem cheaper) or how unsafe it may be. The plant's owners and defenders point to the evacuation plan as the public's ultimate protection against disaster. There is a level of intellectual and institutional dishonesty about that claim that is astonishing.
We took the first hard look at the Indian Point evacuation plan right after 9/11. It is filled with small and large idiocies that defy logic and experience. For example, the plan suggested that parents would leave their children at school to be evacuated by buses, and not seek to reunite with them or other family members. The plan assumed the roads would not immediately clog up, because people who live outside a 10-mile radius of the plant would stay put once a radiation release was announced. It assumed that schoolchildren would be evacuated before the public learned of the radiation release, and that New York City residents would not try to leave the area. The plan didn't have sufficient buses to carry out residents and it assumed that bus drivers would voluntarily return to the 10-mile zone for more evacuation trips. Perhaps what was most unbelievable was that the most likely advice given the public would be to stay home, close the windows and turn on the radio. No kidding.
It wasn't enough to simply point out that the whole thing defied common sense. As opponents of the plant, we provoked a full campaign to get local governments and the state to stop certifying the plan, which succeeded. But we ran up against the federal government - in particular the Federal Emergency Management Agency - which denied and delayed fulfilling its own legal responsibility to tell the truth. After a few essentially minor changes in the plan, we had another annual exercise in group madness earlier this month, the evacuation "drill" - a pretend emergency, and a pretend response.
There is no doubt that local officials and emergency personnel worked hard at the drill. But the sincerity of local officials is no substitute for a federal government that will first tell the truth about the impossibility of evacuating residents of Westchester and New York City and then stop protecting and subsidizing the nuclear industry. The first step is to end the drill of a hopeless plan that is closer to a cartoon than a life-saving protection. Even a good drill of a bad plan can't protect us.
There are serious questions about the future of Indian Point that need public discussion. How can we replace the energy it produces? Can we stop its pollution of the Hudson River? Why should taxpayers pay the cost of emergency evacuation and waste disposal? And in the end, is it worth the risk?
We can't rely on the plant's defenders or the federal government to help us answer these questions. And we can't hope for a rational debate when the plant's proponents still insist that a drill can protect us if the worst happens.
Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky represents New York's 92nd District.
LEAVES NUCLEAR PLANTS AT RISK
by Anne-Marie Cusac
On June 16, the commission charged with investigating the events of September 11 announced that Al Qaeda's early attack plans had included "unidentified nuclear power plants." You might think the Bush Administration would respond by doing all it could to prevent a terrorist-triggered disaster at these plants.
The Bush Administration is actually relaxing the fire safeguards there.
Instead of insisting that the plants have heat-protected mechanical systems
in place that will shut down reactors automatically in case of fire, which is the current standard, the Bush Administration would actually let the power companies rely on workers to run through the plants and try to turn off the reactors by hand while parts of the facilities are engulfed in flames.
"The result could be catastrophic," says a March 3 letter from Representative Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Representative John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, to Nils J. Diaz, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). "This would assign reactor personnel the duty of rushing directly to the shutdown equipment located throughout the reactor complex to shut down the reactors manually, and would potentially take place in station areas affected by smoke, fire, and radiation and possibly under attack by terrorists."
Inside the NRC, the idea of people dodging flames and possibly high radiation areas to try to avert a meltown has raised some eyebrows. In a September 2003 meeting, one member of a panel on reactor fire safety repeatedly pointed out that relying on humans to do work in dangerous conditions and under stress was asking for trouble. It's difficult to prepare operators, said Dana Powers, a member of the Fire Protection
Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. "How do you do
that?" he asked. "How do you simulate smoke, light, fire, ringing bells, fire engines, crazy people running around?"
So why is the NRC proposing to relax the fire safety standard? Amazingly,
because many nuclear power plants have not been abiding by current regulations to put up proven fire barriers. Rather than demanding better fire safeguards or insisting that nuclear power companies at least abide by the current ones, the NRC wants to let them off the hook. It's as if car drivers were regularly going 90 mph, so the government raised the speed limit to 90.
"It appears that after discovering that many reactor licensees were out of
compliance with the automatic safe-shutdown fire regulations, the commission
has decided to gut these regulations rather than force nuclear power plant
operators to comply with them," says the Markey and Dingell letter. The NRC
made its decision, according to Markey, "at the behest of the nuclear industry."
Current regulations require plants to maintain two sets of electrical circuitry that enable the reactor to shut down automatically in an emergency. These cables either must be encased in proven fire-retardant materials or must be separated by a distance of twenty feet with no combustible materials in between. That way, if one electrical system burns up, the plant can turn itself off, even if the fire is so destructive
that no staff members are left to do that work.
The NRC introduced a proposed rule change on November 26, 2003, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It said that, instead of putting in fire
barriers, nuclear plants could rely on personnel to turn the plant off by
hand in the event of a fire that threatens the reactor. The rule change may
go into effect as early as next spring.
The rulemaking started after the NRC met with the Nuclear Energy Institute
(NEI), an industry group, which admitted that many of its members did not
have the required safeguards in place. "NEI indicated that the use of unapproved operator manual actions in the event of a fire is pervasive throughout the industry," noted William D. Travers, then the NRC's executive director for operations, in describing the proposed rule to the commissioners. (Procedures for shutting down a reactor by hand are called "operator manual actions.")
Faced with resistance from industry, the NRC found itself in a predicament.
"A concerted enforcement effort," wrote Travers, "creates a prospect of
significant resource expenditure without clear safety benefits." He warned
that the NRC could be flooded with requests for exemptions from the rules.
Fires are not uncommon at nuclear power plants. "Typical nuclear power plants will have three to four significant fires over their operating lifetime," says a 1990 NRC document. "Fires are a significant contributor to the overall core damage frequency."
Fire itself will not blow up a reactor, say critics and industry representatives alike. But if the electrical cabling burns and the pumps that cool the reactor core become disabled, the core could begin to overheat, and the reactor could melt down. Millions of people could then be exposed to radiation.
Shearon Harris nuclear power plant sits about twenty-two miles south of Raleigh, North Carolina, in one of the fastest growing population centers in the United States. So I give Progress Energy, the company that runs the plant, a call. "Fire protection is such a mundane issue," says Rick Kimble, manager of general communications for the company. And he suggests that I shouldn't worry about fires at nuclear reactors because the facilities, built of concrete and rebar, are unlikely to burn and are designed to shut down automatically. Nevertheless, he sets up a meeting with me at the plant's visitors center, a common field-trip destination for local school groups. He says I'll be able to see "images of the plant, basics of how the plant works, cutouts showing the amount of concrete and steel rebar." He even recommends a hotel. I tell him I will make a plane reservation now that I have a confirmed meeting with him.
But the following week, several days before I am scheduled to fly out, Kimble calls me to say that our meeting is cancelled. No one from the plant will meet with me. And, unlike the school kids, I am not welcome at the Shearon Harris visitors center.
Fire prevention, says Kimble, is an industry-wide issue. "We don't think we should be singled out," Kimble explains. Anyhow, he says, "there would not be a catastrophic fire in a nuclear plant." That's because nuclear fuel is not flammable. Even if there was a meltdown, it would be contained, says Kimble.
"That's a ludicrous statement," replies David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, when I ask him whether it's true that a catastrophic fire can't happen at a nuclear plant. "Browns Ferry was also made out of concrete and steel."
One day in 1975, some workers were checking a seal on the secondary containment building at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama. They accidentally started a fire. The fire "was in the insulating material around the cables. It was in a cable tray," says Craig Beasely, a communications specialist at the plant. The fire began in a part of the plant Beasely calls "the cable spreader room," which he defines as "the place where the cables come together."
The fire lasted "about seven hours," says Beasely. Some of the cables that caught fire, he confirms, "did control some cooling" to the reactor core.
"Temperatures as high as 1500°F caused damage to more than 1600 cables routed in 117 conduits and twenty-six cable trays," says a draft report by the Sandia and Brookhaven Laboratories. "Of those, 628 cables were safety related, and their damage caused the loss of a significant number of plant safety systems."
A 1976 paper by the Union of Concerned Scientists was entitled "Browns Ferry: The Regulatory Failure." Observing that the fire rendered all safety equipment inoperative and that thick smoke, loss of control over the reactor, and "inadequate breathing apparatuses" interfered with the operators' attempts to save the plant, the paper sums up the event in these words: "TVA nuclear engineers stated privately to the authors that a potentially catastrophic radiation release from Browns Ferry was avoided
by 'sheer luck.' "
Company protests to the contrary, Shearon Harris merits attention. The most
recent NRC fire inspection describes more than 100 manual action shutdown
procedures that, in case of fire, would send personnel out to turn off the plant and prevent a meltdown. "We've not seen any numbers higher than that," says Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for the D.C.-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service.
The NRC's 2002 Triennial Fire Inspection of Shearon Harris describes some of
these operator manual actions. One, the NRC says, involves "excessive challenges to operators," including "exposure to smoke that would leak past the door and to the fire brigade who would be opening the door, entering the narrow [15 inches wide] energized electrical cabinet, and using a metal screwdriver inside the cabinet and seven feet above the floor with poor visibility and poor labeling. . . . Operators may not be able to start the auxiliary feedwater pump."
Jim Warren, executive director of the Durham-based NC WARN (North Carolina
Waste Awareness Reduction Network), characterizes the procedure this way:
"Get the step ladder and go up in the closet in the darkness, and hope you
don't fry yourself."
The inspection noted that one operator "may be required to complete as many
as thirty-nine manual actions."
The inspection found nine fire safety violations altogether. In a March 2004
presentation the government made at an annual assessment meeting on the Shearon Harris reactor, the NRC described these "fire protection issues" as "potential significant findings."
Nevertheless, the NRC inspection did not come down hard on Shearon Harris.
"The finding was of very low safety significance because of the low fire
initiation frequency," it said. That is, the NRC doesn't think a fire is likely.
Kimble says the reactor has dealt with the violations. "We have made corrections, done everything that has been suggested by the NRC," he says. But Warren is not so sure. "Absent any evidence from Progress [Energy], either in person or documented, that they have corrected those problems, I'm left to assume that they're still there," he says.
Papers released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that
some fire violations at Shearon Harris have gone on for years, either without correction or with corrections that the NRC later determined were inappropriate.
In April, the plant informed the NRC that the fire barriers were missing entirely from cables that power twenty-one valves used to control the flow of cooling water to the reactor core. The plant informed the NRC that it would take two years to fix the problem. The violations date back to 2002.
So I keep my plane ticket. I decide to get a look at the cooling tower and a
feel for the evacuation zone, the ten-mile radius surrounding Shearon Harris.
I drive in a downpour, on an afternoon when tornadoes lift the roofs in
nearby towns, to the hotel Kimble suggested.
The hotel sits in Apex, a town with the slogan "the peak of good living," though there are no mountains, or even hills, in sight.
Warren and I drive around the zone, seeking a view of the reactor. We pull over at Jordan Lake, where we get a glimpse of the tower, its feet in the trees and its head in the clouds. Aesthetically, it's a graceful structure, a triumph of modern design out in the woods. "That cooling tower is over 600-feet tall," says Warren.
Jordan Lake is a popular weekend destination for people in the Triangle region. Below the parking lot where we stand is a dam. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls the inflow and outflow of water, says Francis Ferrell, a Corps engineer who wanders out to the parking lot to meet us. "We actually have a contingency plan" in case of a nuclear emergency, he says. "We're supposed to go out on the lake and tell people," obtain geiger counters after a rendezvous on Highway 64, and report back measurements. "I think our boss is trying to get that taken out of our job descriptions," he says. "That would be fine with me."
We drive to the other side of Shearon Harris to the front entrance, where we
get out and walk on the road, stopping short of the "Private Property" signs. But the guards notice us, jump into their truck, and drive up to inform us that we can't stand there, that we need to cross the highway. The guards are armed. When Warren tells them I am a reporter, they tell me to call the PR office. Then they sit in their truck, watching, until we turn the car around and leave. "At least we know they're paying attention," says Warren.
A 2003 study put out by Orange County, North Carolina, which is near Shearon
Harris, determined that "total evacuation [of the six-county region along the Interstate 40/85 corridor] would take 5.8 days, assuming that all interstate lanes would be directed for outbound traffic."
"I reconcile myself that I may lose everything," says Judy Hogan, a writer, teacher, and activist who lives in Moncure, just a few miles from the plant. "For a while, I was keeping my unpublished books on disks in the trunk of my car because that would be my biggest loss." Now that she owns a truck, she keeps the disks in a briefcase in her bedroom. In that room, Hogan also has a tone alert radio, which she says Progress Energy gave to her because she lives within five miles of the plant. The radio, she says, will sound an alarm for bad weather, as well as for nuclear emergencies.
In 2003, partly in response to anxieties about terrorism at nuclear power plants, the state of North Carolina made potassium iodide (KI) available to people living near nuclear reactors. Hogan went to the local school to get them. She digs out her foil-wrapped pills (each person gets two) from her purse.
Two information sheets accompany the pills. One of these describes potassium
iodide as "an over-the-counter medication that can protect one part of the
body--the thyroid--if a person is exposed to radioactive iodine released during a nuclear power plant emergency." The sheet says to take one tablet per twenty-four hour period, and it adds an admonitory note: "Remember...taking KI is not a substitute for evacuation. Leave the area immediately if you are instructed to do so. Do not take KI unless public health officials tell you to take it."
The other sheet is entitled, "Frequently Asked Questions About a Radioactive
Emergency." It begins, "Radiation is a form of energy that is present all around us. Different types of radiation exist, some of which have more energy than others."
Kimble is right. Fire safety is an industry-wide issue. And Shearon Harris
is not the only plant with a long list of violations.
For instance, in Hutchinson Island in Florida, a March 2003 Fire Protection
Baseline Inspection of the St. Lucie Power Station found that "many local
manual operator actions were used in place of the required physical protection of cables for equipment relied on for SSD [safe shutdown] during a fire, without obtaining NRC approval for these deviations from the approved fire protection program. This condition applied to all areas that were inspected."
Rachel Scott, nuclear communications manager for Florida Power and Light,
says that this inspection "pointed up an industry-wide" practice, where reactors "have been implementing manual actions" against NRC regulations. So, says Scott, the NRC decided "to allow the licensees to substitute manual actions, as long as the manual actions were feasible." The NRC, says Scott, "did determine that the manual actions" at St. Lucie Station "were feasible," meaning "that they could serve safe shutdown." Scott says the plant has not put in fire barriers or separated the cables, but is
instead waiting for the new regulation to take effect.
At another Florida reactor, this one in Citrus County, a Triennial Fire Protection Baseline Inspection in July 2002 discovered, according to a "Briefing Summary," that not only did the Crystal River plant use "a significant number of local manual actions" instead of automatic shutdown, but that the plant's fire plan neglected to give adequate consideration to some of the practical difficulties of shutting a nuclear power plant
down by hand. The omissions included, in the NRC's words:
Complexity of the new local manual actions. The number of manual actions and time available for completion. Availability of instruments to detect system/component mal-operations. Human performance under high stress. Effects of products of combustion on operator performance. Available manpower, timing, and feasibility of
local manual actions. Mac Harris, communications supervisor for the Crystal River site, which is run by Progress Energy, says that the above problems eventually received a green, non-cited violation. "Green is considered very low safety
significance," he says. The Crystal River Plant, he says, "dealt with the identified issues" by making "some revisions in the fire protection plan," a process it completed in May.
The Nuclear Information and Resource Service obtained these records, and those from Shearon Harris, through a Freedom of Information Act request. The records of fire safety violations are still coming in, says Gunter. "I'm told that when we're done, the stack will be ten feet tall," he says. "That's how widespread the non-compliances are."
A March press release by Markey's office provided "a partial list of reactors that are out of compliance with NRC fire protection regulations." Here are the reactors:
Arizona: Palo Verde Units 1,2,3
Arkansas: Arkansas Nuclear One Units 1,2
California: Diablo Canyon Units 1,2
Florida: Crystal River, St. Lucie, Turkey Point 3,4
Louisiana: River Bend
Mississippi: Grand Gulf
Nebraska: Fort Calhoun
New Jersey: Oyster Creek
North Carolina: Shearon Harris 1, McGuire Units 1,2
Pennsylvania: Beaver Valley 2
Tennessee: Sequoyah Units 1,2, Watts Bar
Texas: Comanche Peak 1,2
At Davis-Besse, the Ohio nuclear reactor with a history of safety troubles that sits twenty-five miles from Toledo, fire protection is a problem.
Phil Qualls, an NRC senior fire protection engineer, sent an e-mail to Dennis Kubicki, a former colleague who had worked on a report on safety at Davis-Besse. Qualls said he went over that 1991 report, and that it contains "some pretty outrageous stuff. Things like . . . complete manual actions" instead of the fire barriers required by law, "and a variety of fire protection issues." He warns Kubicki, "your name is on this document. The s___could hit the fan hard and you may hear questions about it (or the
s___ may be soft and you never hear about it, too)."
The report, which identifies Kubicki as a "principal contributor," declares numerous fire issues at Davis-Besse "acceptable." For instance, previous safety inspectors had expressed concern that a manual action might cause reactor cooling problems because of delays in getting the equipment to work. The report determines that these problems "are not safety significant as long as no unrecoverable plant condition will occur." It defines "unrecoverable plant condition" as "the loss of any shutdown function(s)
for such a duration as to ultimately cause the reactor coolant level to fall below the top of the reactor core and lead to a subsequent breach of the fuel cladding." In other words, as long as the reactor does not reach a point where it threatens to melt down, no problem.
"It's a big caveat to say, 'as long as no unrecoverable plant condition will occur,' " says Gunter of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "How do they know?"
Gunter blames the NRC for what he says is a dangerous regulatory change. The
government agency, he says, is "more interested in protecting the financial interest of the industry than in protecting those electrical cables."
For its part, the NRC says it is doing all it can to keep the reactors safe. "The prescriptive rules" requiring physical fire barriers "didn't allow for flexibility," says John Hannon, NRC branch chief in the office of nuclear reactor regulation--the part of the NRC that is responsible for fire protection programs. "The rules were so inflexible they [the plants] sometimes had trouble meeting them." So, he says, even from the day the
rules were written, the NRC gave out exemptions "for alternative means of shutting the plant down that were safe and reliable. Many of these were operator manual actions."
Then, in the 1990s, as the NRC inspected plants to make sure they had adequate fire protections, the commission discovered "a lot of plants were using manual actions and had not come to us for exemptions," Hannon says. So the NRC decided it was "prudent for us to initiate a rule making for that, to codify acceptance criteria to make it clear" what is acceptable.
The NRC claims that all of this can be done safely. "We're seeking the health and safety of the public," says Hannon. "We don't want a plant damage event to occur that would cause a radioactive release." The NRC, he says, takes "fires very seriously." And he says the new rule will be an improvement on the status quo. "If we leave it the way it is now, we have plants out there that wouldn't meet the criteria," he says.
"Rather than bring the industry into conformance with the code, the NRC
brought the code into conformance with the industry," says Gunter.
Jerry Brown worked as a consultant to the nuclear industry for twenty-two
years, until 1998. .....His specialty was fire and radiation penetration seals, critical safety components to nuclear reactors.
To exchange old rules "for new regulations to say that we don't need these redundant shutdown systems is criminal," he says. "You could have a runaway reactor with no ability to shut it down." Brown blames the NRC, which he says has a history of treating "fire safety in such a negligent way."
Brown, who says he is "absolutely" concerned about terrorism in connection with fires at a nuclear plant, gives a grim warning. "A nuclear power plant can kill a million people," he says. "There are more fire barriers in a nursing home than in a nuclear power plant. That doesn't make sense to me."
Anne-Marie Cusac is Investigative Reporter of The Progressive.
nuclear drill mocked
Protestors charge evacuation exercise is unrealistic
June 9, 2004
Rita J. King
Real reporters weren't allowed to ask questions during the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Radiological Emergency Preparedness Plan drill yesterday (Tuesday) regarding a terrorist attack at Indian Point, apparently because the situation presented isn't real.
FEMA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Entergy, Indian Point's owner, invented a terrorist scenario and held a mock press conference during which fake reporters asked questions about an imaginary airplane flown into Indian Point.
The mock drill is part of a process to ensure safety and communication, and to give a sense in the event of a real emergency, actual reporters would be given access to a panel of government and industry officials.
The drill was held at the Joint News Center at the Westchester County Airport. FEMA, NRC, the New York State Police and Entergy were among the agencies represented in the panel, and they handled the mock drill as if it was the real thing, minus the pressure of adrenaline that accompanies life emergencies.
Breaking news, such as the extinguishing of a fire caused by the impact of the airplane, was announced during the drill. One mock casualty, an Entergy employee, was reported.
Diane Screnci, NRC spokesperson, said she couldn't reveal intelligence information, such as where the airplane had been en route from or if it was hijacked. A faux message from the director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge had enabled Indian Point to be made aware of the potential threat ahead if time and shut down the reactors prior to impact.
Protestors stood outside the Joint News Center with signs reading, "NRC and FEMA are quacks and we're sitting ducks," and "Unsafe, Unsecure and Fatal," a take-off on Indian Point's "Safe, Secure and Vital" slogan. The chanted, "Hey, ho, Indian Point has got to go."
"The drill will be unrealistic in that the NRC, FEMA, and the nuclear industry have refused to recognize human behavior that was demonstrated during the Three Mile Island accident. For example, key people in the response plan in all likelihood will delay response or abandon their roles," said the director of the Reactor Watchdog Project, Paul Gunter.
"The current emergency plan doesn't factor these real human behaviors into their drill," Gunter said.
Environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper's senior policy analyst Kyle Rabin said other factors are similarly ignored during the creation of the mock scenario, such as the possibility of a fast-breaking scenario and the capability of local hospitals to treat an influx of patients who may have been exposed to massive doses of radiation.
Journal News Community View published 4/11/04
COMMUNITY VIEW POINT
By Maureen Garner-Ritter and Susan H. Shapiro
America's mantra has become "What did they know, and when did they know
it?". Therefore, it is unconscionable that we continue to turn a blind
eye on the clear and present danger of Indian Point.
Imagine for a moment the convening of the "independent" investigation
regarding an accident, earthquake or terrorist attack that caused a
major release of radiation.
NRC Chairman Diaz will be questioned as to why the NRC reduced oversight
the plant only one week after a 20 year employee reported that Entergy
repeatedly ignored warnings about multiple cable separation problems
which could cause the loss of the emergency cooling system. Diaz will
respond by repeating what he said on the 25th anniversary of Three Mile
Island, " Few experts thought that such a severe accident was ever
likely to happen. Confidence in the technology was very high."
The mingled computer cables and other problems plaguing the plant,
including sump pump concerns , rust in the dome, inadequate security
forces, and most unscheduled shutdowns than the other plant, were all
violations of NRC regulations. Diaz will say "the NRC had 'reasonable
assurance' they could 'adequately protect public health and safety'.
Though there was a possibility of disaster, we believed the odds were
After FEMA Director Brown expresses his sorrow to the families of the
sick and dead, he will argue that the evacuation plan should have worked,
even though they were not certified by counties and the state. He will
concede, "The paper drills proved insufficient in a real life scenario."
Surely he won't forget to thank the hundreds of first responders, who
lost their lives, while panicked people stampeded the inadequate road
system, frantically gathering their families, and leaving their
property, jobs and lives behind.
President Bush and Tom Ridge will not actually appear before the
commission. They will issue a statement that says, ".despite the
chatter of threats against our nations power plants and evidence that Al
Queda had targeted our nuclear plants, there was not enough 'actionable
evidence' to establish federal security or even a no-fly zone at Indian
Point. It's just unfortunate the financial and cultural epicenter of the
world, New York, is uninhabitable. The U.S. economy will suffer while we
relocate the survivors.".
Governor Pataki will shift uncomfortably in his seat, as he recalls
commissioning former FEMA director James Lee Witt to study the
evacuation plan. In August of 2003, Witt concluded that the evacuation
plan was "not adequate to protect public health and safety". Pataki will
defend his unwillingness to call for closure, "Since President Bush was
planning to build more nuclear plants, I thought decisions regarding
closure and security should be left to the Feds". He hopes he can land
a job in DC, now that his Garrison home is uninhabitable, being in the
radiological "hot zone"
Jim Steets, spokesman for Entergy, will point out that they spent $500
million improving the plant. He'll tell the panel that Entergy feels
just awful about the situation, but "We never dreamed that a quake
along the Ramapo fault would exceed the 5.5. design standards", despite
the warnings of the Lamont-Doherty scientists. "The Price-Anderson act
limits our liability to 38 billion, so in about 20 years homeowners may
collect some monies." Unfortunately, homeowners will have to pay
mortgages and taxes on properties to which they can never return.
Senators Clinton and Schumer will vehemently defend their failure to
call for closure, despite the outcry of residents and the local elected
officialscalling for immediate shutdown. "Keep in mind," states Sen.
Clinton, "there was an insufficient amounts of actionable evidence".
Despite the February 2003 study that found the power from Indian Point
was replaceable, Sen. Schumer will claim we were studying the issues and
had called for additional security...".
Return to Present: The counties face another farcical "paper" evacuation drill in June. If the counties participate in the drill, FEMA will rubber stamp its approval.
Just 1% of our current defense budget could support and sponsor
renewable technologies, as America when the interstate road system was built. Jobs would be created and dependency on foreign oil ended. Also eliminated
would be the danger of Indian Point - which operates surrounded by a
population density that far exceeds present day NRC regulations.
Hindsight is 20/20. Foresight is priceless. By ignoring the obvious evidence our government officials are acting with gross negligence. They are making arbitrary and capricious decisions affecting our lives and the future of this nation.. The NRC is more concerned about protecting the profits of Entergy than the lives of 20 million American citizens.
Indian Point is a clear and present danger. Let's close and secure it before it's too late.
Indian Point gets favorable NRC ratings
By Greg Cannon
Buchanan – The Indian Point nuclear power plant's two reactors are operating safely, but efforts to fix problems that do come up "have produced mixed results," according to an annual assessment by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The findings were released late last week as part of a yearly roundup of safety and performance ratings of U.S. nuclear reactors. The improvements at Indian Point mean that the NRC will scale back a level of scrutiny that had been stepped up in the wake of earlier problems.
Of the 18 performance indicators that NRC inspectors measured at each of the two reactors in 2003, only one fell short of a green ranking. Green is the highest ranking on the agency's four-tiered, color-coded system. Indian Point 3 was hit with one white mark, a step below green, for its high number of unplanned shutdowns.
This is the first time in the four years that the color-coded system has been used that either Indian Point reactor has earned all green ratings.
A green rating does not mean that everything's copacetic. Rather, it means that any problems that do exist are not thought to pose significant safety risks. "Green means, basically, you're doing what you're supposed to be doing," said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.
The environmental group Riverkeeper, which says the plant is unsafe and has called for it to be shut down, blasted the NRC's findings.
Kyle Rabin, a policy analyst for the group, pointed to part of a March 3 letter from the NRC to Indian Point that mentions "relatively large elective maintenance and corrective action backlogs."
"We feel that there's a disconnect here between what's in the NRC's letter and what's in its actual findings," Rabin said. "It's time for more scrutiny, not less."
According to the NRC, Indian Point improved its standing by dealing with plant operators who had been failing license-renewal tests, and repairing a "degraded" control room firewall.
But problems remain, including an unusually high number of unplanned plant shutdowns. In December, the NRC said that Indian Point operators took too long to notify the commission earlier that year when it was knocked off-line by a lightning strike at an off-site switching station.
Jim Steets, a spokesman for Indian Point, said that most of the shutdowns, including the one resulting from the giant Northeast blackout Aug. 14, were beyond the plant's control. He said both reactors have been running at full capacity since mid-August and that erasing the shutdown issue from the NRC's list of concerns is just a matter of time.
Separately, the NRC is looking into safety concerns that were raised recently by a former employee about possible crossed wires at the plant. If warranted, the findings of that investigation would be included in next year's report.
The NRC is planning to schedule a public meeting to discuss its findings sometime in late April. The date and place have yet to be set.
February 10, 2004
Backs Away From Bush '02 Nuclear-Terror Warning
By ROBERT BLOCK and GREG HITT
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
WASHINGTON -- The White House stepped back from a high-profile assertion by
President Bush, in his January 2002 State of the Union Address, that U.S.
forces had uncovered evidence of a potential attack against an American
In the speech, Mr. Bush warned of a terrorist threat to the nation, saying
that the U.S. had found "diagrams of American nuclear power plants" in
Coming just months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- and as U.S.
forces were on the hunt for al Qaeda in Afghanistan -- the statement was
offered as evidence of the depth of antipathy among Islamic extremists, and
of "the madness of the destruction they design."
"Our discoveries in Afghanistan confirmed our worst fears," Mr. Bush told
Congress and the nation in the televised speech. He said "we have found"
diagrams of public water facilities, instructions on how to make chemical
arms, maps of U.S. cities and descriptions of U.S. landmarks, in addition to
the nuclear-plant plans.
Monday night, the White House defended the warnings about Islamic extremist
intentions, but said the concerns highlighted by Mr. Bush were based on
intelligence developed before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, and that no
plant diagrams were actually found in Afghanistan. "There's no additional
basis for the language in the speech that we have found," a senior
administration official said.
The disclosure came amid increasing questions about the Bush
administration's use of prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons capability to
justify the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush has been
forced to concede that the U.S. has found none of the weapons of mass
destruction that he warned of before the war. It is also the second time
that the Bush White House has been forced to back away from an assertion in
a State of the Union address. In the 2003 speech, Mr. Bush warned Iraq was
seeking raw uranium in Africa, a claim the White House later conceded was
mistakenly included in the speech.
The suggestion that plant blueprints might have been in the hands of
terrorists sparked concern among environmental activists and local
communities near the country's 103 nuclear stations, according to
Greenpeace, the liberal advocacy group. The White House was forced to comb
back over Mr. Bush's 2002 speech Monday after Greenpeace released a letter
from a senior official at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that cast doubt
on Mr. Bush's claim.
In a letter responding to a request by Greenpeace to clarify Mr. Bush's
assertion about the nuclear-plant plans, NRC Commissioner Edward McGaffigan
wrote Feb. 4 to say that he had testified two years ago in "one or more"
closed-door Congressional hearings and told lawmakers that he "was aware of
no evidence" that plant diagrams had been found in Afghanistan. The NRC is
responsible for maintaining security at the nation's nuclear power plants.
An NRC spokeswoman confirmed the authenticity of the letter, but said that
Mr. McGaffigan wouldn't have any comment. In the letter, Mr. McGaffigan does
say that al Qaeda poses a danger. "I believe that based on the evidence
available there is a general credible threat by al Qaeda toward American
nuclear power plants," he wrote.
While some evidence is public, he said, "The vast majority is appropriately
Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council,
said Monday night that rather than being based on actual diagrams that were
actually found in Afghanistan, the president's warning about nuclear plants
grew from information collected by the U.S. intelligence community. Among
other things, U.S. intelligence had received information from a suspected
bin Laden operative in the fall of 2001 and early 2002 suggesting that
potential U.S. targets include nuclear power facilities, dams and
water reservoirs. At the same time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation
reported a series of suspicious incidents, including the surveillance of
U.S. nuclear plants. In January 2002, the White House said, U.S.
intelligence warned that members of al Qaeda might be tapping into the
U.S.-based Internet sites that included information about nuclear
THE NEW YORK TIMES
February 10, 2004
Panel Member Says Bush Erred on Details of Threat to Reactors
By MATTHEW L. WALD
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — President Bush was probably wrong when he asserted in his 2002 State of the Union address that American forces routing guerrillas of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan had found designs for nuclear power plants, one of the three members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said.
The commissioner, Edward McGaffigan Jr., who was appointed to the N.R.C. by President Bill Clinton in 1996, said in interviews last week that he and other members of the commission had scratched their heads when they heard the speech.
The president was "poorly served by a speechwriter," Mr. McGaffigan said.
In the 2002 speech, Mr. Bush said of Qaeda terrorists: "The depth of their hatred is equaled by the madness of the destruction they design. We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities, and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world."
Mr. Bush's statement has been repeated often by opponents of nuclear power, who argue that the operation of reactors is too risky when the country is under threat of terrorist attack. The point has also been repeated by members of the House and Senate, and Mr. McGaffigan has raised his contention in closed hearings, people in the hearings have said.
In one telephone interview, Mr. McGaffigan said the commission was deeply interested in any intelligence gathered by the United States on the subject and would like to see details on which plants were portrayed in the designs and what type of plant and which systems in the plants were targeted. But he said that despite repeated questions in the first half of 2002, he had not found anyone who could confirm that such plans were recovered.
Word of his argument has recently emerged among nuclear experts, and Mr. McGaffigan confirmed it in the interviews last week. On Wednesday, he sent a letter outlining his position to Greenpeace, the environmental group, which had written to ask about his position.
His letter said he was "aware of no evidence" that diagrams of American power plants had been found in Afghanistan.
Richard A. Meserve, who was chairman of the commission at the time of the speech, said in an e-mail message that he was "uncomfortable commenting on classified information."
Nils J. Diaz, the current chairman, would not comment.
A spokesman for the National Security Council, Sean McCormack, said that in the days before the speech American intelligence officials had observed "suspicious downloading by computers in the Middle East" and that diagrams were available on the Web.
Mr. McCormack also said intelligence officials received a tip that an associate of Osama bin Laden had discussed crashing a plane into "large facilities" like a reactor. He added that "sources and methods considerations did affect the language used in the speech."
The term "sources and methods considerations" indicates caution about describing intelligence findings, to avoid disclosing how the information was gathered.
In the interviews, Mr. McGaffigan said that despite his doubts about whether diagrams were found in Afghanistan, he had no doubt that Al Qaeda was interested in nuclear plants and that it was a reason the commission had changed the security rules for plants five times since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Mr. Meserve, the former chairman, said in his e-mail message that based on intelligence information about Qaeda targets, "I was very comfortable in putting the nuclear industry at high alert."
Mr. McCormack, of the National Security Council, in a separate interview, gave a chronology of indications, before and after the State of the Union address, of Al Qaeda's interest. He said that a Qaeda operative captured in Karachi, Pakistan, had a photograph of a reactor in North Carolina, for example.
A spokeswoman for the commission, Beth Hayden, said Mr. McGaffigan's letter to Greenpeace had been given to the commission's office in charge of classification to decide whether it had any classified information.
A Journal News editorial
A win for the fish?
(Original publication: February 6, 2004)
A new federal appeals
court decision regarding the environmental health of the Hudson River is as
murky as the waterway itself. The state Department of Environmental Conservation
sees favor in the decision. The embattled owners of the Indian Point nuclear
power plants find vindication in it. The environmental group Riverkeeper puts
the ruling in the win column as well. If fish could read, they too, no doubt,
would find something to cheer in the ruling, as fractured as it is. A few things
are clear: Hudson polluters like Indian Point need to move more quickly to environment-friendly
technology, state environmental officials can and should hold power plants and
other industries to higher standards, and the fish and other aquatic life are
by no means out of the woods. The legal case involved federal Environmental
Protection Agency regulations issued in January 2002 governing the cooling systems
to be used by new power plants and factories on the Hudson, a waterway that
has long been the lifeblood of the region, serving both commercial and ecological
needs. A federal rule challenged by environmental groups allowed new facilities
to use vast quantities of river water for plant cooling, in a process resulting
in wholesale death of aquatic life, so long as the facilities also adopted so-called
restoration programs — for example, creating new habitat for fish, such as wetlands,
or instituting fish-restocking programs. The shorthand: It's OK for plants to
kill, so long as they restore life elsewhere. A three-judge panel of the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Albany ruled Wednesday that the EPA
rule violated the federal Clean Water Act. The court said that restoration or
remediation programs, while beneficial, only correct environmental damage; they
"do not minimize those impacts in the first place." In a victory for environmental
groups, the court said the EPA lacked authority to sanction killing under such
a scheme. "We are extremely pleased that the court prohibited the use of restoration
measures as a ruse to avoid installing state-of-the-art technology" that would
avoid such ecological harm, Alex Matthiessen, director of Riverkeeper, one of
the winning plaintiffs in the suit against the EPA, told staff reporter Roger
Witherspoon. Here's where sorting out the winners and losers gets tricky. In
November, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a draft
permit to Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the owner of the Indian Point plants in
Buchanan, allowing the facilities to continue the disfavored plant-cooling method
for another 10 years or so, provided Entergy contributed $24 million annually
to a restoration fund — of the sort panned in the court decision. The DEC, which
should have held Entergy to a higher standard and required Indian Point to invest
in more environmentally friendly technology now, instead of issuing Entergy
what in effect is a 10-year bye on environmental rules, notes that the court
decision only addresses rules applying to new plants, not existing ones like
Indian Point. EPA rules governing existing facilities don't come out until Feb.
16. Entergy, meanwhile, applauds the ruling because it (1) acknowledges the
difficulties that aged plants face in modernizing, and (2) rejects the sort
of flimsy restoration programs embraced by the state. Entergy still looks to
maintain the status quo on the Hudson, which means continuing operations without
investing major sums in either restoration programs or new technology. Like
Entergy, Riverkeeper views the decision as an attack on restoration programs
broadly, applying to those launched by new and old plants alike. But unlike
Entergy, Riverkeeper contends that the end of restoration programs means plants
like Indian Point will have to pony up for the best (think costly) technology
available. Where does all this leave the fish? Better off in theory, but no
doubt back in court.
protects Hudson fish
By ROGER WITHERSPOON
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: February 5, 2004)
A federal rule allowing
new power plants to kill fish while using river water in their cooling systems,
as long as they also have restoration programs, was struck down yesterday by
the U.S. Court of Appeals as a violation of the Clean Water Act. The three-judge
panel in Albany ruled that the law requires power plants and factories drawing
more than 2 million gallons of water a day to use "closed-cycle cooling" systems
— which recycle water in a form of industrial radiator — because they are the
"best technology available." Operators can use only screens and other devices
to keep fish and fish eggs from being pulled into the plants if those systems
are 100 percent as effective as the closed-cycle systems, which use little water
from the rivers, the court said. While remediation programs are "beneficial
to the environment," the judges found that such programs merely correct the
environmental damage caused by the plants and "do not minimize those impacts
in the first place." As a result, the court said, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency had no authority to approve alternatives to preventing the killing of
river fish. "This effectively marks the end of once-through cooling at new facilities,"
said Alex Matthiessen, director of the environmental group Riverkeeper, which
successfully challenged the EPA rule. "We are extremely pleased that the court
prohibited the use of the restoration measures as a ruse to avoid installing
state-of-the-art technology." The case involves regulations issued in January
2002 governing the cooling systems to be used by new power plants and factories.
A second EPA regulation governing existing plants is to be issued Feb. 16. The
draft version of that rule allows existing plants to use restoration projects
instead of requiring that they retrofit the plants for closed-cycle cooling
systems. Among the plants along the lower Hudson River, yesterday's ruling would
affect the cooling system to be used at the proposed Bowline Point Steam Electric
Generating Station No. 3 in West Haverstraw. But there are conflicting views
as to how, or if, the court ruling would affect existing power plants and the
state's permit process. At stake are the cooling systems used by the Indian
Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan, and the existing Bowline 1 and 2 power
plants, the Lovett coal-fired power plants in Stony Point, and the Roseton Generating
Station in Newburgh. Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns Indian Point, received
a draft permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation in November
allowing the plants to continue siphoning billions of gallons of Hudson River
water and killing millions of fish annually, as long as Entergy agrees not to
seek an extension of its licenses, which expire in about 10 years. Entergy,
which has not said what it plans to do, also has to contribute $24 million annually
to a restoration fund. "The court ruling does not affect the draft permit for
the Indian Point plants," DEC spokesman Mike Fraser said. "Indian Point is an
existing facility. If it was a new facility, we wouldn't need a restoration
fund. We feel there will be a different standard for existing plants, so this
should not affect the draft permit for Indian Point." Entergy attorney Elise
Zoli said the court's rejection of restoration programs "would present problems
for the DEC. They proposed a $24 million contribution to a restoration fund.
It is my assessment that it would not be permitted." The court, Zoli said, recognized
the difference between new plants, which can factor the cost of new technologies
into their building plans, and old plants, which could face severe financial
difficulties trying to upgrade to new technologies. Therefore, she said, the
state permit allowing Indian Point to continue using the Hudson should not be
affected. Reed Super, senior attorney for Riverkeeper, which has been battling
the EPA in court over this issue since 1993, disagreed. "The ruling means that
the new regulations for existing plants, which EPA is about to issue, cannot
include restoration measures," he said. "We are asking EPA Administrator Michael
Leavitt not to issue such a rule as it would clearly violate the Clean Water
Act. If they do, we will have no choice but to challenge that rule as well."
EPA officials said they had not had time to assess the impact of the court's
decision. The state DEC, in an environmental impact study released in July,
found that the Bowline, Indian Point and Roseton plants kill billions of fish
and plants annually in their cooling operations. The agency monitored five of
the more than 100 species of fish in the Hudson. It found that more than 2 billion
of those five species died annually in the plants and millions more died of
thermal shock when they encountered the heated water poured back into the river.
Cheating On Security
By Notra Trulock
February 3, 2004
Last November, Vanity Fair magazine ran an exposé on security vulnerabilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory and other Energy Department facilities around the nation. Based on disclosures by Energy whistleblowers, the article charged that mock “terrorists” have repeatedly defeated security forces during exercises of the lab’s security system. The whistleblowers said that the “terrorists” penetrated lab security and then got away undetected. The worry is that real terrorists could steal substantial amounts of the plutonium or highly enriched uranium stored at these facilities. If true, this would be more than enough for an improvised nuclear device that Homeland Security officials say is their worst nightmare.
Energy Department officials categorically rejected these allegations, but a 1999 government report found that security problems are endemic at the labs-and long standing. In particular, the report raised concerns about the security of significant amounts of fissile materials held in facilities “never intended for use as storage.” These concerns linger despite the expenditure of literally hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on guards, gates, and guns over the years.
Security forces at a nuclear plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., however, have found a way to avoid all the bad publicity arising from such failures. They cheated. An internal Energy Department report recently revealed that members of the guard force got advance looks at the test questions for upcoming exercises. The guard force knew in advance which buildings “mock terrorists” would be attacking down to the exact wall they would try to penetrate. Guards were also told whether the attackers would employ “diversionary tactics” in advance of the exercise assault. That knowledge enabled the guard force to prepare for the mock assault; security managers ensured that the best-trained personnel were on-hand to repel the mock terrorists, and other countermeasures were put in place to ensure success. They also disabled electronic devices on their weapons so their “deaths” at the hands of the terrorists would not be registered. The internal report concluded that the results of these tests of the plant’s security force were tainted and unreliable.
Wackenhut, the security contractor, denied the allegations and claimed “security today is much better than it has been.” But inspectors were told that this cheating has been going on at Oak Ridge since at least the mid-1980s. The whistleblowers in the Vanity Fair article also alleged that guard forces at Los Alamos and elsewhere were often warned in advance of upcoming exercise events.
So why did they cheat? That’s easy-money. Last September, Wackenhut received over $3 million in fees as a reward for its “outstanding” performance on security. That gave the inspectors heartburn and they recommended that the department pay close attention to their findings when it next evaluates Wackenhut’s performance. But this is the second time in recent months that the department’s federal oversight appears to have broken down. The last such incident involved security vulnerabilities resulting from the loss or theft of master keys and key cards at Livermore National Lab in California.
Moreover, none of this was supposed to happen on the Bush administration watch. In response to the public outcry over China’s theft of nuclear secrets and the mysterious loss of classified computer hard drives, Congressional Republicans pushed through a restructuring of the Energy Department late in the Clinton years. They created a new, semi-autonomous agency within the department that is specifically tasked to ensure the security and safety of the nation’s nuclear-weapons laboratories. They were also harshly critical of the Clinton-appointed leadership of the department and vowed that, given the opportunity, they would ensure that future secretaries would have solid national security and intelligence credentials.
But the new administration failed to clean out the Clinton holdovers; former security officials reported that the “same old faces” occupy the new agency’s top security positions. And it is increasingly evident that lab security has fared no better under the new agency than before. If the labs’ past history is any guide, lost master keys, missing computer disks and lost or stolen computers containing classified data, “fudged” security tests, and misappropriated taxpayer funds are only the tip of the security iceberg. And, as before, the new agency crushes anyone who dared voice concerns about security failures. After 9/11, everything was supposed to have changed, but the labs and their federal masters in Washington apparently didn’t get the message.
Notra Trulock is Associate Editor of the AIM Report.
January 17 / 18, 2004
Bad Days at Indian Point
Inside America's Most Dangerous Nuclear Power Plant
By JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
These are desperate days for Entergy, the big Arkansas-based power
conglomerate that owns the frail Indian Point nuclear plant, located on
the east bank of the Hudson River outside Buchanan, New York-just 22
miles from Manhattan.
First, a scathing report by a nuclear engineer fingered Indian Point as
one of five worst nuclear plants in the United States and predicted that
its emergency cooling system "is virtually certain to fail."
This damning disclosure was hotly followed by the release of a study
conducted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission which ominously concluded that the chances of a
reactor meltdown increase by nearly a factor of 100 at Indian Point
because the plant's drainage pits (also known as containment sumps) are
"almost certain" to be blocked with debris during an accident.
"The NRC has known about the containment sump problem at Indian Point
since September 1996, but currently plans to fix it only by March 2007,"
says David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of
Concerned Scientists who. "The NRC cannot take more than a decade to fix
a safety problem that places millions of Americans at undue risk."
Entergy and the NRC both downplayed the meltdown scenario and defended
the leisurely pace of the planned repairs, which won't start until 2007.
Entergy says that there's no rush to fix the problems with the emergency
system because a breakdown isn't likely in the first place.
But that's flirting with almost certain disaster. Entergy and the NRC
are staking the lives of millions on odds of a single water pipe not
breaking under pressure. The problem is that these very kinds of pipes
have corroded and been breached at other nuclear plants featuring
similar pressurized water design. At the Davis-Bessie plant near Toledo,
Ohio, a vessel head on one of the cooling water pipes had been nearly
corroded away by acid and was dangerously close to rupturing.
The cooling water in these pipes is kept at a pressure of 2,200 pounds
per square inch. If a pipe breaks, the 500-degree water would blow off
as steam, tearing off plant insulation and coatings. The escaped water
will pour into the plant's basement, where sump pumps are meant to draw
the water back into the reactor core. But the Los Alamos tests showed
that the cooling water would collect debris along the way that will clog
up the mesh screens on the pipes leading back into the reactor. If this
happens, the cooling of the reactor fuel would stop, the radioactive
core would start to melt and the plant will belch a radioactive plume
that will threaten millions downwind.
All this would happen very fast. The Indian Point 2 reactor would
exhaust all of its cooling water in less than 23 minutes, while the
number 3 reactor would consume all of its water in only 14 minutes. Try
getting a nuclear plumber that quickly.
Yes, it sounds trite, but that's essentially what Entergy proposes as
its quick fix to the meltdown scenario. Jim Steets, Entergy's spokesman
on Indian Point matters, told the New York Times last month that the
company was training its workers to scour the plant for flaking paint
and potential debris and that if an accident occurred they would pump
the water into the core more slowly, a plan that would buy plant
managers and executives a few more minutes to flee the scene.
Where people would go and how they would get there in the event of a
nuclear meltdown or other radioactive release at Indian Point is
unclear. In September 2002, New York Governor George Pataki commissioned
a report on Indian Point's evacuation plan. He picked James Lee Witt,
the former Rose Law Firm attorney who served as head of FEMA during the
Clinton administration, to oversee the investigation. At the time,
Pataki said that he would support closure of the plant if Witt's report
revealed that communities near the plant could not be safely evacuated.
Witt submitted his report on January 10, 2003. While somewhat timid and
cautious, Witt concluded that Entergy's off-site evacuation plans for
Indian Point were woefully inadequate.
Witt wrote: "It is our conclusion that the current radiological response
system and capabilities are not adequate to overcome their combined
weight and protect the people from an unacceptable dose of radiation in
the event of a release from Indian Point, especially if the release is
faster or larger than the design basis release."
In the end, Witt concluded that it was not possible to fix the
evacuation plan, given the problems at the plant, the density of the
nearby communities and looming security threats.
This sobering scenario was followed by news that a review of the
company's security record revealed that Entergy, in cahoots with the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, faked a test designed to determine
whether the plant is vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
In an August letter, the NRC assured members of Congress that Entergy
had developed a "strong defensive strategy and capability" for the plant
and passed with flying colors a so-called "force-on-force" test, a mock
In turns out, however, that the NRC gave Entergy officials months of
advance warning about the test and then, as the Indian Point team
cribbed for the exam, dumbed down the assault to ensure that they would
Most assessments by the CIA and other intelligence agencies suggest that
an assault on a nuclear plant would require a squad-sized force of
between 12 and 14 attackers, who would assault the plant by night, armed
with explosives, machine guns with armor-penetrating bullets, and
This isn't the attack that was repelled by the Entergy security team.
Instead, Entergy's men battled off a squad of 4 mock terrorists, armed
only with hunting rifles, who assaulted the plant in broad daylight.
Moreover, the attacking squad weren't former Delta Force operatives
trained in terrorist tactics, but security officers from a nearby
nuclear plant who assault the plant from only one point after crossing
open fields in plain view of Indian Point's security guards.
Just to make sure that there were no surprises, the Entergy security
team, which consisted largely of guards hired only for the test, was
warned that a mock attack would take place sometime within the next
hour. Even under these rigged conditions, Entergy barely passed the
Environmentalists and anti-nuke activists living near the plant hoped
this would be the final straw for the aging reactor. They marshaled
their evidence of safety violations, inept evacuation plans and lax
security and headed off to offices of the most powerful Democrat in
America, Hillary Clinton.
But Hillary has remained about reserved as Pataki on Indian Point,
issuing robotic requests for more studies but refusing to call for the
plant's closure. Not that her words mean much. Last month, she pledged
to filibuster the nomination of Utah governor Mike Leavitt for director
of the EPA. She ended up voting to confirm his nomination.
Of course, Hillary's ties to Entergy are almost primal. The Little
Rock-based Entergy Corporation, which once employed John Huang, the
infamous conduit to the Lippo Group, was one of Bill Clinton's main
political sponsors, shoveling more than $100,000 into his political
coffers from 1992 to 1996.
The more plaintive the cries for Indian Point's closure, the more money
Entergy spreads around to politicians with reputation for flexibility in
these matters. Already this year, Entergy's New York Political Action
Committee-ENPAC New York-has doled out more than $25,000 to New York
politicians alone. Everyone got into the act from Pataki and Clinton to
Democratic congressman Eliot Engel to lowlier footsoldiers for the
nuclear plant, including two state assemblymen, commissioners from
Westchester and Orange counties, Bronx Borough president Adolfo Carrion
and state comptroller Alan Hevesi, whose election campaign was endorsed
by the Sierra Club.
Political money isn't the only tool in Entergy's bag of tricks. In late
October, community activists in the Bronx reported that emissaries from
Entergy were canvassing black and Hispanic neighborhoods in New York
City and Westchester County with an ominous warning: if Indian Point
closes, air quality in urban areas will deteriorate and more blacks and
Hispanics will develop respiratory illnesses. The Entergy reps told
people that new coal-fired power plants would be built in their
neighborhoods and urged them to sign a petition.
"In recent years, nearly all proposals for new power plants in New York
state have been in or adjacent to areas with high concentrations of
people of African descent and Latinos," a memo handed out at the door
warns. There is, naturally, much truth to this claim. and Entergy is in
a unique position to know. since throughout the southeast it has
targeted its power plants in black neighborhoods, where it has heralded
them as bringing economic engines for impoverished communities.
The canvassers also carried cellphones as they went from door to door.
They hit the speed dial number of a local legislator, handed the phone
to the resident and then prompted them on how to express their concerns
about the possible closure of Indian Point.
The petition drive, which discreetly by-passed the 13 predominately
white districts in Westchester County, was run by a group calling itself
by the lofty-sounding name: the Campaign for Affordable Energy,
Environmental & Economic Justice. The group was supposedly based in
Manhattan. In fact, it was created and wholly funded by Entergy.
"This is a sham front group fabricated by the nuclear industry to scare
black and low income people," says Susan Tolchin, a staffer for
Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, who supports closing the
Indian Point plant. "It's an outrageous and disgusting attempt to
exploit the minority community for corporate greed."
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like
Green to Me: the Politics of Nature.