Peekskill – Following months of political pressure that wound its way to Washington, the owners of Indian Point have made a commitment to replace their nuclear plant’s troubled siren system by 2007.

The timeline has yet to be established, but Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns and operates the twin reactors in northern Westchester County, offered details into what they hope to do during a public meeting here Wednesday.

Mike Slobodien, emergency programs director for Entergy, said plans call for multi-directional sirens that would likely be louder than the current Cold War-era rotating horns that dot the region.

In addition, electronic gadgetry – possibly military-grade – will give greater information and feedback to local officials; backup batteries would enable the system to function during blackouts; and the elimination of moving parts would reduce breakage.

Currently, 156 sirens in four counties – Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester – surround the Buchanan plant. In the event of a radiological emergency, officials in each county trigger the sirens with telephone lines or radio frequencies.

But months of poor test results have eroded public confidence in the system, federal regulators say.

“It’s more than hardware,” Sam Collins, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s top reactor safety official, told Entergy managers. “We’re up here for a reason, and that’s clearly because people are concerned.”

So are elected officials. Earlier this year, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton added a provision into an energy bill that required Entergy to make improvements.

On Wednesday, Entergy said they’ve gotten the message.

“We intend to use tested, proven technology,” Slobodien said. “We want to use something that’s tried and true.”

Whether Entergy is able to meet its schedule is a matter of some debate.

No vendor has been selected for the multimillion dollar project, and the company has only begun the arduous task of gaining local, state and federal approval.

“We’re committed to this aggressive schedule, but this is a very large system,” Entergy’s emergency director said. “The implementation of a new system will take time.”

Plant critics who attended the Wednesday forum – officially advertised as a meeting between the NRC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Entergy – interpreted that to mean delays are inevitable.

“It is your job to not let them spin the numbers,” Mark Jacobs, of the anti-plant Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, told NRC officials during a heated-public comment period.
“And I don’t think you’re taking that job too seriously.”