“Let’s start with a single premise: Considering its close proximity to major population areas – including the mid-Hudson Valley and New York City – the Indian Point nuclear power plant should be held to the highest standards imaginable if it is going to continue to operate.

The facility has been plagued by assorted problems over the years, ranging from failures of its warning notification system, to inadequate evacuation plans, to leaks of radioactive water found in the soil adjacent to a pool that holds spent fuel rods.

Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano has repeatedly called for the plant to be shut down. Several municipalities have passed resolutions demanding this action as well. Safety concerns have been greatly compounded since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Nevertheless, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the company that owns the power plant, recently announced it would seek federal approval to operate the facility for 20 more years. The plant has two active reactors – Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3. Those permits are set to expire in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Entergy wants them extended through 2035.

But a group of New York’s congressional delegation is saying “not so fast.” They want a rigorous independent safety assessment of the plant before the licenses are removed, and that makes abundant sense.

U.S. Rep. John Hall, D-Dover, put the matter bluntly: “Indian Point is the nation’s most problematic power plant in the nation’s most densely populated corridor.” He noted that 8 percent of the U. S. population resides within a 50-mile radius of the plant. Hall and others want an independent safety assessment within six months. They say a 25-member team should be appointed, along with a five-member citizens review team to ensure public accountability. They insist any recommended repairs or actions must be taken care of before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviews the licenses.

That commission oversees the 103 working nuclear plants in the U.S. and has resisted attempts to individualize re-licensing criteria. But Congress has the ability to alter Indian Point’s re-licensing requirements, and it should do so. U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, and others have taken up this fight before. Now, more political voices are joining the call. They should keep up the pressure for the most stringent of reviews.

Saddled with ill-conceived siting

Indian Point 2 was considered the most unsafe and worst run of the nation’s 103 nuclear power plants when Entergy bought the Buchanan-based complex in 2001. To its credit, Entergy has worked to remove that dubious distinction, though there is no ignoring the problems that have persisted, nor is there any getting around Indian Point’s dangerous location. Nationwide, most nuclear facilities are in rural areas, away from major cities.

In hindsight, Indian Point never should have been located where it is. But shutting it down now is far more complicated than opponents are apt to believe, or at least state publicly. For one, the plants produce enough electricity to meet more than 20 percent of the daily consumption in the Hudson Valley and New York City areas; that energy isn’t easily replaced. While federal and state governments need to work with innovative businesses to bring more alternative fuels to the market, that won’t happen overnight. Moreover, nuclear power is actually less harmful to certain aspects of the environment than coal-burning plants. There also is the long-term question of what to do with the spent fuel rods, something the federal government has failed to address on a nationwide basis.

While progress must be made on these issues, the plant’s safety features must be exacting in the meantime. The public must have confidence in how the facility is being operated – and regulated by the government. Representatives in Washington are right to insist on a far-reaching independent review.”

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