“The Homeland Security Department needs to review conflicting claims on the nuclear power plant.

There’s no denying the significant contributions of the Indian Point nuclear power plant to the economy of the mid-Hudson and the quality of life of the state in general. The plant, on the Hudson River in Buchanan, generates tens of millions of dollars in disposable income through its employees. And it provides 11 percent of the power to the state grid, from which the mid-Hudson draws its electricity.

For those reasons, closing it down, as has been urged by different citizens groups and politicians over the years, would have major negative impacts, unless there was a comprehensive plan in place to replace the energy and high-paying jobs lost by a plant closing.

On the other hand, while there has always been an elevated level of anxiety in many citizens about the safety of nuclear power plants, concerns about the security of the Indian Point operation have been voiced with increasing frequency and urgency since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

And safety and security issues, if they are credible, can trump any economic issues. If a nuclear power plant is not run in a safe manner, if its evacuation plan is faulty, if security is suspect, it doesn’t matter how much power or money it generates. Either the flaws must be fixed or the plant must be shut down.

At Indian Point, the jury remains out. Recent safety glitches have been corrected and the number of guards have been increased since Sept. 11, but questions remain about those areas as well as the feasibility of an evacuation plan that encompasses an increasingly more populous area.

A report being awaited with great anticipation is one ordered by Gov. George Pataki. He named a task force to review Indian Point safety procedures and to assess the evacuation plan. That report is due soon and Pataki has said he would push the federal government to close the plant, if the report recommends that.

Meanwhile, serious charges have been made about security at the plant, the latest by a security guard who has worked at Indian Point for six years.

The guard, Foster Zeh, says security training of guards at the plant is phony and that any intruders determined to penetrate the plant – which could describe terrorists – could easily overwhelm its security force.

Zeh, who says he assists with weapons and security training, says there aren’t enough guards, their training is geared to the lowest acceptable level because so many can’t pass it, guards are working long shifts, which causes fatigue, many guards are out of shape and the cursory weapons training they receive is useless as far as trying to combat armed terrorists.

To which Entergy, which owns Indian Point, says:
– Zeh doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
– He’s a disgruntled employee whose credibility should be questioned because he has been suspended over a “performance” issue.
– The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission disagrees, having recently passed Indian Point on security.

Entergy’s views on Zeh are the usual ones voiced about whistle-blowers, but they could well be accurate. Right now, though, they are in the he-says/they-say category. And Zeh has the benefit of Entergy itself supporting his doubts about security. An internal company report issued in January and made public recently by Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog group, says only 19 percent of the 160 guards stated “they could adequately defend the plant.” That’s hardly encouraging. And a number of guards say Zeh knows what he is talking about.

The new Homeland Security Department has been given the responsibility for ensuring the security of nuclear power plants against terrorist attacks. One of its high-priority issues should be to review all the conflicting claims about security and safety at Indian Point and not to take any assessment at face value simply because of who made it.

By virtue of its location in the densely populated suburbs of New York City, Indian Point is at once vital as a source of energy and attractive as a potential target for terrorists.

The ideal solution would be to make it as safe and secure as possible within reasonable expectations, as that applies to nuclear power plants.

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