BUCHANAN — Federal nuclear regulators yesterday gave preliminary approval to Indian Point’s plan to upgrade its emergency siren system, which the company has promised to replace by early next year.

The action by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission formally initiates the requirement and cements the timetable for a new system to be in place by Jan. 30, 2007.

“If they sign off on (the draft agreement) it takes on the power of an order, and they have to abide by the conditions of the order,” said Neil Sheehan, a regional NRC spokesman. “It’s not a tool that we use every day, but it’s one that’s highly effective.”

Entergy Nuclear Northeast, Indian Point’s owner, was already obligated to replace backup power for the 156-siren system after a series of failures last year prompted U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to require the improvement as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which passed in August. Three months later, Indian Point officials promised to install an entirely new system within 15 months.

“The new sirens are part of the company’s plans to move this region into the forefront of notification technology,” said Michael Slobodien, Indian Point’s director of emergency programs.

The NRC’s final approval is due by the end of this month, agency officials said. There will then be a series of interim deadlines to ensure the company meets the negotiated schedule. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, must have final siren designs by May 1, Sheehan said.

Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said the company has narrowed its list of prospective system vendors to four and had a list of more than two dozen criteria that would be examined, including the cost, size and range of the sirens. No cost estimates are available yet, he said.

Steets said the number of sirens needed and their locations may change with a new system. He said Entergy was conducting its own tests to ensure that the 10-mile emergency evacuation zone, which includes sections of Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange counties, would be adequately covered.

Clinton applauded the latest effort.

“It is just common sense that the Indian Point sirens should operate in the event of a blackout, and I hope that Entergy will act quickly to confirm the order and put backup power in place as soon as possible,” she said.

New siren system

The new emergency alert system for Indian Point would have

• All-directional sirens that would likely be louder than the 156 existing rotating speakers. Fewer sirens may be needed if tests prove they can effectively cover bigger areas.

• No moving parts that could lead to periodic failures; the system would be 100 percent electronic.

• A proven track record at other nuclear plants or at military installations.

• A backup power system.

• The potential to link up with other communications networks such as cell phones.

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