“Westchester County lawmakers on Monday will begin debating whether they want to join others calling for a special safety inspection at Indian Point. The nuclear plant has had its share of difficulties in recent times and there’s a growing chorus asking for an independent look at its operation.

There have been unexpected shutdowns at the plant, as well as a decades-old emergency siren system that seems to have a mind of its own.

Not to mention radioactive water leaks that are puzzling company engineers and leading some to wonder why strontium 90 turned up recently in a small sample of Hudson River fish.

Westchester’s the third county within the 10-mile evacuation radius of the nuclear plant waiting to chime in on the need for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct an “Independent Safety Assessment.”

Rockland already adopted a resolution requesting that federal representatives continue to push for an ISA, and Putnam leaders are discussing something similar. So far, Orange County hasn’t taken up the issue.

But more importantly, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and much of the Hudson Valley congressional delegation have been pushing federal legislation that would require the NRC to do the inspection, despite the agency’s contention that an in-depth review isn’t necessary.

Saugerties Democrat Maurice Hinchey is the lead dog on the federal legislation, which has the support of fellow Democrats Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel.

Hinchey’s spokesman said yesterday that the bill would be reintroduced in the House of Representatives after talking over its substance with newly elected Democratic Congressman John Hall.

The new version could include funds to pay for the inspection, according to Hinchey’s office.

A spokeswoman for Clinton said the bill would be reintroduced in the Senate as well, though it was unclear yesterday if funding would be included in her version.

Money’s an issue because a full-blown ISA would involve thousands of hours, dozens of people and a detailed analysis of the plant’s ability to operate safely in the midst of the most densely populated area in the nation.

The word “independent,” however, is a misnomer, as I see it.

Who doesn’t support the idea of an independent assessment of anything?

The sense among those calling for it envision a team of specialists looking at everything in and around the plant without connection to the plant’s owners or the NRC.

“It should not be the agency itself, it should be an arms-length entity,” said Westchester County lawmaker Michael Kaplowitz, who sits on the Board of Legislators’ environmental committee that will take up the matter first.

Maybe so, but that’s not what an ISA is.

First and foremost, it’s conducted by the NRC. Even Hinchey’s bill calls for the agency to conduct the inspection.

It would, NRC officials say, be done by agency staff that aren’t assigned to Indian Point, combined with nuclear industry contractors who may have connections to Indian Point’s owners, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, but aren’t familiar with the Buchanan site.

“It would be a fresh set of eyes,” said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan. “But you want to have somebody who’s worked on the type of plant you’re looking at and there’s a fixed pool of contractors.”

So, as the heat gets turned up on this in the coming months, with Indian Point looking to extend its license to generate power through 2033, remember that an Independent Safety Assessment may be about safety, but it’s not about independence.

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