“Jim Knubel, the former chief nuclear officer at Indian Point 3, who is currently on the advisory board of the Entergy-financed New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, has charged that the ever growing call for an independent safety assessment at Indian Point is inappropriate or “bogus” (March 20 Community View) because many people would like Indian Point closed regardless of the outcome of the ISA. His labeling of the supporters seems a little desperate considering that they already include both of the senators from New York, neither of whom has ever called for closure, a bipartisan group of U.S. Congress members, the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut, the county boards of Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange, the town of Cortlandt and a substantial number of villages within the surrounding counties. In other words, there is broad support for the ISA initiative. The ISA is especially appropriate because Entergy is applying to keep the highly profitable plant operating for 20 years past its originally intended lifespan.

Let’s provide a historical context for the independent safety assessment. There has only been one ISA ever conducted. In 1996, over the objections of both the plant operators and the NRC, the governor of Maine demanded an ISA at the Maine Yankee Nuclear Plant. The inspection team included 25 members, 16 of whom were actually NRC employees, but none had a relationship with the plant in question. The findings of the ISA were that the plant could continue to operate, but that the deficiencies discovered compromised safety and had to be corrected. The plant owners evaluated the capital expenditures needed to bring the plant up to design basis specifications, and decided that the cost would be too high, so they closed the plant in 1997. The decommissioning of that plant was completed a few years ago. In other words, the owners decided that it was just too expensive to keep the plant up to spec. Is that why Entergy opposes the ISA?

Indian Point is an aging nuclear plant with a long history of problems. Let’s remember that Indian Point is the only nuclear plant in the country known to have ongoing leaks of strontium 90 and cesium 137 in addition to tritium, which is leaking from a number of aging plants around the country, and that the leaks have been going on for an undetermined amount of time. The best guesses are that the leaks started before Entergy purchased the plants in 2001. That means the leaks went on for years before they were ever discovered. And let’s also remember that the only reason the leaks were found was because Indian Point has so much more radioactive wastes in storage than was ever planned for, that the operators have to move the older waste to open, exposed, above-ground casks. It was only excavation for the necessary radioactive waste movement that led the company to find wet dirt around the spent fuel pools. The on-site inspectors from the NRC never knew the leaks were happening.

Mr. Knubel’s claim that safety is paramount at the plant is belied by the NRC’s finding this past December that workers were scared to bring up safety issues because they feared reprisals from company management.

Mr. Knubel is correct that many people feel similar to the way I do and would like to see the plant closed. One reason I want it closed is that I have been told by the former regional director of the NRC, in a public meeting, that no one can guarantee that there will not be a radiation release incident at any commercial nuclear plant. The reality that this threat is real is demonstrated by the federal government’s cap on the nuclear industry’s liability for an accident and the extension of the Price-Anderson Act, which places the risk burden on the American taxpayer instead of the industry. In fact, the insurance industry will not insure anyone’s property against radioactive contamination loss. If they think the risk is too high, why wouldn’t we?

But my desire to see the plant closed does not change the need for an ISA if the owners want to continue operating until the plant is 60 years old. Since they have been telling the public for years that there is nothing to fear, why do they fear an ISA?

The writer is a member of the steering committees of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition and Croton CIP (Close Indian Point), a local organization.”

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