“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.
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 “Chernobyl on the Hudson?” A spokesman for Entergy, which owns the two operating reactors at Indian Point, also dismissed the report.
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 Hudson because of bad weather. They were meant to show that the plant is a “sitting duck.”
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 New York City, given this new terrorist era?”
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.”