The news from Indian Point on the safety front remains disturbing. Earlier in the month, the plant operators reported radioactive elements were detected near an ongoing leak, as well as in water moving toward the Hudson River. This week, the notification system failed again in a test. Such unsettling situations support the positive response by the Nuclear Regulation Commission that will finally conduct an independent safety review of the facility. This action has been called for by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and representatives Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley; Nita Lowey, D-Westchester; Eliot Engel, D-Bronx; and Sue Kelly, R-Katonah.

The specifics of the review have yet to be determined, but given recent problems, the action must be completed quickly. It is slated to include assessment of the design, construction, maintenance and safety performance.

For the first time since a leak was detected in August, Strontium 90, a powerful radioactive element that enters and magnifies in the food chain, was discovered in a testing well near a 400,000-gallon spent-fuel pool.

Additional test results from a well drilled in February revealed tritium, in levels above acceptable standards for drinking water, within 150 feet of the river. This is particularly upsetting because of its proximity to the river and also it indicates contaminated water from Indian Point is flowing east to west, toward the river, rather than the hydrologically-typical north-south that has always been monitored. Officials believe this radioactive material may have traveled through hairline cracks in the property’s bedrock caused by construction blasting decades ago. More monitoring must be conducted along the river’s edge and a commitment made to determine the source of the leaking tritium.

Last week, the siren system, which has been plagued with problems, was down yet again for almost four hours when a test run failed. It’s obvious a back-up system is needed. Following problems with the sirens last summer, Entergy agreed to overhaul the notification system. A vendor was named last month, and officials expect to have the new program in place by the end of 2006. Although it needs approval from numerous agencies, including the state and FEMA, the process should be expedited. An effective warning system is critical for safety issues.

The NRC has tentatively scheduled a public hearing later in the month to discuss Indian Point and a full report will be made public in April. In the meantime, the independent safety review must proceed. This is no time for the NRC to get bogged down in bureaucracy. The public needs to know what impact Indian Point has on the quality of life in the Hudson Valley. Entergy, which owns Indian Point, has pledged to be cooperative with the independent reviewers.

Representatives in Washington are right to insist on a far-reaching independent review. That comprehensive approach should serve the public, and Entergy, well. Problems have been occurring too long, and recently, too often, at Indian Point.

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