“Buchanan — As emergency officials were tracking the source of radioactive water found in sewage here last month, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore was in Manhattan, ticking off reasons why Indian Point should operate for another 20 years.

Not the best timing, perhaps.

But Moore’s controversial message was not completely clouded by the ill-fated coincidence. He did manage to get a few glowing editorials, and was proclaimed “one of the sanest people on the issue of climate change” by The New York Sun.

Such is the battle for public opinion at Indian Point.

In the five weeks since Entergy Nuclear Northeast submitted an application for the 20-year renewal of its licenses, which expire in 2013 and 2015, press releases and pronouncements have flown from plant supporters and critics alike.

Paul Newman, of Hollywood and salad dressing fame, became the latest celebrity to throw his name behind the plant. Some scoffed at Newman’s credentials, and The Record’s own editorial board labeled the Hollywood icon a propagandist.

But Jim Steets, a spokesman for plant owner Entergy, defended Newman’s observations. “Paul Newman is much more engaged in environmental and specifically nuclear issues than The Record gives him credit for,” Streets wrote in an e-mail.

On the other side of the aisle, most Hudson Valley lawmakers have sought to legislate their way to a closed power station. Rep. John Hall, D-Dover Plains, has said Entergy’s decision to seek relicensing “defies reason” because of a rash of recent problems at the plant.

And independent advocacy groups have stepped up their campaign to close the twin reactors, which sit on the Hudson River 35 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. On Monday, Riverkeeper, a Tarrytown-based environmental group, called on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reject Entergy’s renewal application outright.

Public opinion has always been a player in the Indian Point debate. Fancy Web sites and corporate sponsorship — Entergy’s support of Yankees baseball, for example — have saturated the regional media market before. But since Sept. 11, 2001, the PR battles have become more heated, and more costly, observers say.

According to The Center for Public Integrity, Entergy spent over $13.5 million on lobbying between 1998 and 2004. It is unclear how much money the multibillion dollar corporation has thrown at Indian Point advertising, but it’s clear the company is not shy about spending to promote. In 2003, an Entergy-funded coalition of pro-Vermont Yankee supporters spent about $200,000 in advertisements, according to newspaper reports. Closer to home, Entergy spent an undisclosed amount the same year to help form the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance. That coalition of business and labor interests was founded to counter Indian Point critics.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the current PR war is aimed squarely at the NRC license renewal process. “What’s going on at Indian Point is likely to determine how many questions the NRC asks, how many additional things the company has to do or promise,” he said.

Lochbaum isn’t confident the anti-plant public relations blitz will be effective. The NRC has never rejected a plant renewal application. But NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the high-profile of Indian Point is raising public awareness. And it’s the public, ultimately, that could hold the key to Indian Point’s future.”

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