“Time will tell, to use an old editorial dodge, whether Josh Rattner is a prophet or just a noodge.

Mr. Rattner pulled a driver from a burning gasoline truck last year, risking his life and earning an invitation to a “Heroes Breakfast” at the Hilton Rye Town last week. But when it came time to smile and accept his plaque, he pulled a Marlon Brando and refused it, saying he could not allow himself to be a public relations tool of one of the day’s corporate sponsors, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns the Indian Point power plant. Mr. Rattner says Indian Point is a menace that should be shut down.

Mr. Rattner, an electrical contractor from Irvington, thus fired an early shot in what promises to be a long and ferocious struggle over the relicensing of Indian Point, the Hudson Valley’s vital energy resource or nuclear nightmare – take your pick – in Buchanan, about 35 miles north of Times Square.

Already the environmentalists are out in force, firing away with news conferences and op-eds and calling in reinforcements from the hundreds of politicians and dozens of town and village boards that have called for the plant to be decommissioned. Besides traditional anxieties about meltdown, radioactive waste and the nuclear industry’s wobbly economics, the enemies of Indian Point have a new trump card to play – the fear of terrorism – now that 9/11 has jolted people into taking long-shot possibilities seriously.

Supporters of nuclear power have a trump card of their own: global warming, which looms as the environmental crisis of our age. This has prompted more than a few people in the green camp to argue that fossil fuel, not radiation, is the clear and present danger, and to embrace nuclear plants as a proven, readily available way to reduce carbon emissions and save the planet.

This page has been largely agnostic about nuclear power in general and Indian Point in particular, though it has expressed serious reservations about security at the plant, which is badly placed in a densely populated region, where a mass evacuation in an emergency would be extremely difficult. We have called for greater fortifications and a competent security force at Indian Point, but have seen no immediate reason to shut it down.

We hope the coming clashes will clarify what the region’s residents think about whether to embrace or reject nuclear power along the Hudson. We hope further that this grappling will lay the groundwork for a much broader debate – the kind of national discussion the Bush administration should be leading but is not, given that its energy policies amount to little more than an unwavering fixation on the maximal extraction and consumption of fossil fuels from anywhere and everywhere.

It may seem early in Westchester -Indian Point’s reactor licenses are not up for renewal until 2013. But Indian Point is one of the biggest nuclear controversies around, aside from the long struggle over burying waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and thus is a prime opportunity to sort out our energy priorities, reassess our seemingly boundless appetite for cheap power and weigh our tolerance for risk – not just in the region, but across the nation.”

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