“Rockland County yesterday joined an effort by two neighboring county governments to shut the Indian Point nuclear plant by refusing to sign off on plans for a possible radioactivity emergency.
The move by C. Scott Vanderhoef, the Rockland County executive, came in response to a report last week that called evacuation plans for the plant inadequate, particularly given the potential for terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.
His decision means that three of the four counties surrounding the plant will refuse to send the state their usually routine annual certification of disaster plans. The certification is a checklist confirming that rescue workers have completed training and have the resources to deal with a radioactive emergency. The counties’ opposition, while largely symbolic, could bolster legal efforts to force a shutdown of the plant.
Only the Putnam County executive, Robert Bondi, has decided to sign the plan, saying that certification is a technicality that should be free of political calculations.
“We should all be spending more time talking about how to protect the plant from a terrorist attack rather than arguing over whether it should be shut down immediately,” said Mr. Bondi, a volunteer fireman. He added, “If we close the plant down, probably we would be doing just what the terrorists would like us to do: alter our lives forever.”
But Mr. Vanderhoef, joining his colleagues in Westchester and Orange Counties, said he could not certify the plan, in light of a report released Friday by James Lee Witt, a consultant for the state, that said an evacuation plan required for a 10-mile radius around the plant was unworkable and emergency planning was inadequate to protect the public.
The report found, among other things, that roads would probably be clogged by panicked residents well beyond the 10-mile radius, and that emergency workers, many of them volunteers, might not respond because of the perceived danger.
“The whole Witt report is disturbing, and obviously its conclusions are disturbing,” Mr. Vanderhoef said after a conference call with the three other county executives, who plan to request meetings with state and federal officials to discuss the findings.
Every year, the state is required to send the Federal Emergency Management Agency a certification that the disaster plan is in place and current. The state typically sends its certification after collecting letters from the four counties.
But state officials say they will be hard-pressed to send the certification if the counties responsible for responding to emergencies do not certify the plan. The state’s Emergency Management Office has not decided whether to certify the plan.
Even if FEMA decides that the plan is not current, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could still allow the plant to operate, at least temporarily. But opponents plan to use the lack of certification in a legal fight to force a closing, a process experts say could take at least a year.
Jim Steets, a spokesman for Entergy, which owns the plant, said that the company stood by the plan and that Mr. Witt had overstated the problems with it.