“It is dismaying that the federal agencies responsible for overseeing nuclear power plant safety have brushed aside local governments’ lack of confidence in the Indian Point evacuation plan by recertifying it yesterday.

Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Orange counties — whose officials would be responsible for executing the evacuation of people in a 10-mile radius of the nuclear power plants — have said that they believe the plan is inadequate. Based on the counties’ failure to take part in the annual process that leads to a federal stamp of approval on the plan, New York state emergency officials also refused to declare the plan in readiness.

Lacking the agreement of those levels of government, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency presumably relied on in the past, the agency, nevertheless, reached a different conclusion.

Everything’s fine, FEMA told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Everything’s fine, the NRC told a public that is sure to remain understandably skeptical, at the least.

Critics of the two Buchanan power plants believed there was more than enough evidence to convince FEMA that it was not in a position to pass along its routine assurance to the NRC. Because adequate emergency preparations are a condition of NRC licensing, the critics hoped to force the issue of the plants’ continuing operation.

To be sure, there has been intense political pressure on local officials, arising from post-9/11 fears of terrorist attack, to join the movement to close Indian Point. The federal agencies, it might be thought, are free from such pressure and in a position to make a more objective judgment.

But local governments had objective measures on which to base their own judgment. The tide turned when an independent assessment commissioned by Gov. George Pataki, conducted by James Witt, a former FEMA director, concluded that the evacuation plan could not protect residents. Chief among the faults, Witt’s report found, was a failure to account for the type of emergency that could arise from a terrorist attack, as opposed to an accident. Federal planners continue to give the key Witt criticisms short shrift.

The NRC, in declaring emergency plans satisfactory yesterday, also said the next emergency drill would include a simulated terrorist scenario. How was the plan declared satisfactory if it has not been tested against that new, grim threat?

One key ingredient in a successful plan is public confidence. When people hear one set of officials assure them that something can be done, when the officials who would actually have to do it say it can’t be done, public confidence will surely be a casualty.”

This editorial originally appeared in the Journal News