“A small but vocal contingent at Westchester County’s Environment and Energy Committee meeting this week urged support for an independent safety assessment of the Indian Point Nuclear Power plants.

If county legislators adopt the resolution next month, Westchester will join Rockland County and municipalities such as Croton, Ossining, Beacon, Putnam Valley, Ramapo and Cortlandt, who have all passed an ISA resolution supporting a pending congressional bill. If enacted into law, Entergy, owner of the nuclear power plants, would be legally required to conduct an independent safety assessment.

“I live six miles from the plant and I made a presentation supporting the ISA,” said Croton-on-Hudson’s Glenn Rickles, a member of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, a grass roots organization pushing for the plant’s closure. To date, IPSEC has amassed over 5,000 signatures supporting the ISA.

But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the plant’s federal oversight agency, said that the plant already undergoes independent assessments.
“Right now at Indian Point there are two inspections underway for looking at component design bases, “said NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan. “Seven team members are on site for four weeks. Three of those seven members are independent contractors–not NRC employees.”

The ISA stipulates that an assessment for Indian Point be similar to the ISA at the Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Wiscasset, Maine in 1996. Sheehan said Maine Yankee’s assessment is what Indian Point is getting now.
“Maine Yankee had 25 team members on site for two weeks in July and again in August. They covered what we do now with our reactor oversight process at Indian Point.”

The Maine Yankee plant closed after the safety assessment revealed that running the plant safely was cost prohibitive.

Driving the push for the ISA is the upcoming re-licensing application in March for continued plant operation by Entergy. Operating licenses will expire in 2013 and 2015 unless extensions are granted by the NRC.

Newly elected Congressman John Hall (D-Dover Plains) said the ISA is integral to the re-licensing process since the NRC is so connected to the industry. “I think the NRC has been long on their promotion [of the industry] and short on their regulatory activities. It would be helpful if a truly objective, independent panel looked at this plant.”

Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said since September 11, the plant has undergone more safety assessments than any other plant in the country. “If we have yet another assessment, it will be one we have to endure and one that will distract our workers from their everyday duties just so we can satisfy some unfounded whim,” he said.

Many assessments are prompted by concerned officials, Steets added. “Is this about safety or about satisfying a constituency? The motivation behind these efforts is not to ensure safety, but is a push by people to close the plant.”

Speaking briefly at the meeting was Marilyn Elie of the Westchester Citizens Awareness Network, a group that wants the plants closed.

“This county is determined to keep people in Westchester safe from any possible harm from Indian Point,” said Elie. “We need independent people to look at the plant and tell us what the real story is. If something is wrong we will know about it. If nothing is wrong we can all feel relieved.”

Chairing the meeting was Thomas Abinanti (D-Irvington). After voting unanimously with three other committee members, Abinanti said “the ISA provides transparency. If we can’t close the plant, let’s make it safe. If it comes out okay, then we can all breath easier.”

Voting for the ISA was committee member Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) who said safety issues included leaks, non-working sirens and basic design flaws.
“It has been a yo-yo operation with ups and downs. We have little or no confidence in Entergy or the NRC.”

Present at the meeting was Elizabeth Segal of Tarrytown who said she was concerned about the plant’s safety. “It makes me feel good that we have our county behind us.”

ISA bill in limbo
A Congressional and Senate bill for an ISA was introduced last March by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-Middletown) and was co-sponsored by Reps Eliot Engel (D-Bronx), Nita Lowey (D-Harrison), Sue Kelly (R-Katonah), and Christopher Shays (R-Conn). The Senate has a similar bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). According to the congressional website, the last action on the House bill was a referral to the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality on March 17 and the Senate bill is lingering in the Committee on Environment and Public Works.”

This article originally appeared in the North County News.