“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.”

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