“I’ve never felt safe living near the Indian Point nuclear plants, and
nothing that’s happened during this long, hot summer has been in any way
My primary concern has been the plan devised to evacuate the 10-mile zone
around the plants, which includes parts of four Rockland towns, in case of a
It’s always been my belief – and still is – that good people have come up
with the best possible plan for an evacuation.
I also believe it won’t work.
This summer, the list of reasons got a little longer.
It doesn’t take much to look at the Tappan Zee Bridge almost any afternoon –
especially summer Fridays – to get a preview of what traffic might be like
in the event of an Indian Point emergency. In recent years, we’ve seen a
simple accident at the wrong time tie up traffic in opposite directions to
Orange County and Connecticut. And we’ve seen how hard it is to empty the
Palisades Center mall during a bomb scare.
We’ve been assured and reassured that skeptics like me are wrong and the
evacuation plan will work. Mothers and fathers and grandparents will report
to drive school buses to evacuate other parents’ children rather than trying
to find their own. No one will have an accident or run out of gas. No one
will panic or suffer a heart attack as they try to drive to safety. The
roads will remain clear and moving and everyone will do what they’re told,
when they’re told. No one will decide on his own to leave and everyone just
outside the 10-mile zone will stay put, confident that what they’re being
told is complete, accurate and timely.
Even if you buy all that – forgetting that during the Three Mile Island
nuclear emergency, utility management at best underplayed and at worst
outright lied to the governor of Pennsylvania – it’s all contingent on one
The warning sirens have to work, letting people who live and work and go to
school inside the 10-mile zone know there’s an emergency.
There are periodic tests of that siren system and over the years we’ve
reported its successes and failures. For the most part, most of the sirens
usually work, giving us a sense that most inside the zone would get the
Not so fast.
This summer it hasn’t been a couple of sirens in Westchester or one in
Putnam and two in Rockland, or any similarly low number of failures among
the 156 sirens. In early July, a power outage after a thunderstorm knocked
out the entire system for about six hours. On another occasion, smaller
outages cut power to about 20 sirens.
There are other ways to alert the public, including police, Reverse 911
where it’s available and the electronic media, which may have diminished
effectiveness in case of power outages.
But the need for the siren system was viewed seriously enough to bring a
pledge from Entergy Nuclear Northeast, Indian Point’s owners, to install a
backup system. It will cost several million dollars, a spokesman says, and
could be in place in about two years.
As if those failures weren’t problem enough, they’ve been bumped up to a new
level, and with it our anxiety.
Several times last week, a Verizon telephone system that allows counties to
activate the sirens dropped out of service without anyone at Indian Point
noticing. There’s a backup, but its reliability has been questioned.
Indian Point officials were unaware of the problem last week until Rockland
emergency service officials called to report finding the system down during
a routine test, said Dan Greeley, Rockland deputy commissioner of emergency
By week’s end, the system had been out of service several times, which is
pretty remarkable given that everyone should have been watching for repeat
Westchester and Rockland officials reacted quickly, calling for a meeting
with Verizon, Entergy and several state and federal regulatory agencies.
How seriously they’ll be taken remains to be seen. Consider that when
counties raised serious doubts about the evacuation plans, federal officials
still certified the plans as workable.
Workable, maybe. Realistic? Not so much. Of course, if the sirens fail, that
would cut down on traffic and the plan might fly.
But so far, concerns over a Sept. 11-style terror attack, worries about the
vulnerability of spent-fuel storage and lack of faith in the evacuation
plans hasn’t been enough to shut Indian Point, especially during this long,
hot summer when our biggest fears centered on our air conditioners breaking