“BUCHANAN – County officials on both sides of the Hudson want Indian Point to clean its river water filters more often than the nation elects a president.

The nuclear plants had to declare a low-level emergency Monday when leaves and branches clogged up an intake structure that channels water from the Hudson through the plant to cool nonradioactive machinery. The company has a state permit to use the water.

Divers sent into the icy waters Tuesday cleaned the debris off the lower sections of a large trash screen, which had become plugged enough that water wasn’t getting in during low tide early Monday.

Though the problem affected the nonradioactive portion of the plants, if it had continued, it could have forced the shutdown of Indian Point 3.

Currently the plants clean the screen once every four years, a schedule that didn’t sit well with Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano or Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef.

“The emergency could have been much worse,” Spano said. “Entergy needs to make sure that these screens are always clean of debris so the plant can operate safely.”

Vanderhoef spokeswoman C.J. Miller said the company labeled the amount of debris “significant” in its communication to the counties.

“We’re dealing with very basic maintenance issues,” Miller said. “And this is Indian Point 3, the newest reactor. It brings into question what the schedule is for IP 2 as well. If they’re getting blockages like this, stepping up the maintenance is a no-brainer.”

Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns and operates both power plants at the site, will review its maintenance schedule to see if the frequency needs to be increased, company spokesman Jim Steets said.

The last time the screen was cleaned was in November of 2005, Steets said. It was earlier reported that the screen had been cleaned last November, which he said yesterday was incorrect.

Steets said there are plenty of early warning signs that are part of the plant’s operation which let workers know if there’s a problem getting enough river water through the 27-foot-high submerged structure.

He reiterated that the “unusual incident,” as it is known in the industry, was a nonradiological event that didn’t affect plant operations or safety.

Regulators mobilized their incident command center in Pennsylvania on Monday to ensure they were on top of the situation.

The emergency didn’t reach the level that required similar action from the four counties within the 10-mile evacuation radius of the plant – Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Orange.”

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