Go ahead, say what you want about the Department of Homeland Security — it dropped the ball on Hurricane Katrina, it would outsource port security to al-Qaida Inc., it really puts the “W” in domestic wiretap — its secretary could be our best friend in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Michael Chertoff, at the prodding of U.S. Rep. Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, has promised to organize a summit to review Indian Point’s emergency evacuation plans — sort of the “blueprint” for our continued survival in the aftermath of a major mishap at the nuclear power plants in Buchanan, except that only small children and the foolish believe the plans are worth more than the paper on which they were scribbled.

The Homeland secretary pledged to set up a team to review the evacuation plans, in tandem with the appropriate agencies. “We should look at the plan,” said Chertoff, who last week was called on the congressional carpet for the governments’ poor response to Katrina. “I agree we have to be realistic about whether the plans work or not. We shouldn’t kid ourselves about it.”

That would be the first indication that Washington wasn’t kidding itself on Indian Point. In a 2003 study, former FEMA Director James Lee Witt found significant faults in the evacuation plans, such as that they were virtually useless. Washington nuke regulators, however, were nonplussed by the findings. Mindful of the plants’ attractiveness to terrorists, Westchester, Rockland and Orange county officials have refused to certify the evacuation plans. Likewise, their intransigence barely raised an eyebrow among the pocket-protector set at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Three regional members of Congress — Reps. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, and Maurice Hinchey, D-Middletown — have called on Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Gregory Jaczko, who visits the plants today and Thursday, to “examine whether the myriad problems raised in the Witt report as well as the concerns of local officials have been addressed.” But it’s plain that parts of two days is hardly enough for serious inquiry.

That makes the review promised by Chertoff all the more relevant. Neighbors of the plants, and by that we mean those within a 10-mile radius, really need to know what to expect in the event of a crisis — even if the answer merely reflects our common experience and understanding, that our clogged roads can hardly withstand the strain caused by a flat tire let alone that caused by mass evacuation. That truth is far better than the delusions contained in evacuation plans disavowed by the very officials expected to carry them out.

So we trust that Chertoff, sufficiently chastened by the Katrina experience, will follow through (this time) and that the federal lawmakers will hold him to the promise (this time), and sooner rather than later. What better way to show that George W. Bush, the new energy-wise president, who over the weekend renewed his call for new nuclear power plants, was as much interested in the related safety, environmental and siting issues, and not merely blowing smoke?

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