“Westchester is still waiting for a consultant’s report on whether the Indian Point nuclear reactors can be closed and replaced with a plant fueled by an alternative energy source.

Concerned about the safety of having a nuclear facility in a densely populated area, County Executive Andrew Spano first advocated taking over Indian Point in 2002. The overdue report, expected on his desk next month, will discuss the feasibility of that idea, including the cost to taxpayers, who would be responsible for the nuclear materials and what would happen to the approximately 1,300 jobs at the plants. The price tag for the county’s takeover has been estimated at several billion dollars.

“To us, this is not a big deal,” Susan Tolchin, Spano’s chief advisor, said
of the delayed report. “We should be getting a report within a month that’s
all-inclusive, and that takes time.”

In May, Spano announced that the county had hired Boston-based Levitan &
Associates to study the acquisition, a proposal he made about 14 months
after the terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center. The study, he said
when hiring the consultants, was a “matter of safety.” Levitan was paid
$385,000 to conduct the feasibility study in five months.

The county executive isn’t alone in his idea to replace the two reactors in
Buchanan with an alternative energy source. In 2003, Rep. Nita Lowey,
D-Harrison, helped secure $1 million to study how to meet the area’s energy
needs if the plants were shut down. Last week, state Attorney General
Eliot Spitzer, who is running for governor in 2006, said Indian Point was
“something we can do without.” If elected governor, Spitzer said, he
would close Indian Point if other sources of energy were found to replace the
power being generated. The two reactors each produce about 1,000
megawatts of electricity.

Jennifer Meicht, a spokeswoman for Gov. George Pataki, declined to comment
on Spitzer’s remarks last week.

Meeting the area’s energy demands has been one of the core arguments in the
debate about Indian Point. Critics of the plants contend they are unnecessary. A surplus of electric power in nearby states, along with greater local conservation measures, would adequately replace the electric power lost if the nuclear reactors were closed, they say.

Closing the facility, the plants’ proponents say, would leave the region with a shortage of electricity. Entergy Nuclear Northeast, Indian Point’s owner, said the plants are safe and provide needed electricity. If the studies are done correctly, said Jim Steets, an Entergy spokesman, they will show how valuable the plants are.

“There’s a limit to the value of studies. Studies don’t produce electricity,” Steets said. “I think if Mr. Spitzer understood how well protected the plants are and how safe the technology is, he would be less inclined to want to close Indian Point.”

Lowey’s study, which is being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, started at the beginning of the year, said her spokeswoman, Julie Edwards. The panel met in January and will meet again next month, she said.

“There will be three meetings after that as they work toward finding alternative energy sources,” said Edwards, who declined to speculate on when a report would be available.

Levitan’s report would cover an extensive list of questions about Spano’s
proposal, including whether Entergy can be persuaded to convert the nuclear
facility itself or would willingly sell it to the county. The study also will examine how to replace the lost energy, how the region’s energy bills would be affected, and how local municipalities and school districts would be affected by the loss of tax revenue.

Spano’s plan echoes a resolution approved by the Westchester legislature in 2002 that called for the plants’ decommissioning and a study of alternative energy sources. Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, D-Cortlandt, who sponsored the resolution, said the debate should be an intellectual one, not an emotional one.

“This is just a cold calculation,” Kaplowitz said. “I believe that an objective study will show Indian Point could be closed and sufficient energy replacement can be realized that is non-nuclear based, that is safer in an age of terrorism, and that would not disrupt the power supply or the economics of the region.””

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