“BUCHANAN – Federal emergency officials are reviewing the Indian Point nuclear power plant’s new emergency siren notification system before deciding whether it can go into service.

Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the plant’s owner, notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency late Wednesday that its long-awaited, updated siren system was in place and ready to go.

Though the company says it has completed tests proving the sirens are dependable and are sounding loudly enough so residents can hear them, FEMA review and approval of the data are needed before the system can be deemed operational.

FEMA told the company on Monday that review would take 45 days – which pushes Entergy well beyond today’s deadline imposed by the NRC. In a letter yesterday to the NRC, Entergy asked the agency for extra time while FEMA conducts its review. The NRC had levied a $130,000 fine against the nuclear power company after it missed a second deadline in the spring to replace the alert system.

“As of this hour, it doesn’t appear they (Entergy) will meet the deadline,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said yesterday afternoon. “We will have to consider Entergy’s request.”

Rep. Nita Lowey said she is calling on FEMA to review the siren system expeditiously. Also, she said, the NRC should fine the company for not meeting the deadline.

“Entergy must be held responsible for dragging its feet on providing FEMA with the information it needs to assess whether the siren system is finally compliant with the law,” said Lowey, D-Harrison.

The updated system is to improve on the decades-old air-raid-type sirens, which will remain in place until the new sirens are fully operational. The sirens in the 10-mile emergency planning zone around the Buchanan plant – about 340 square miles covering parts of Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange counties – are meant to alert residents to turn on radios and televisions for more information in an emergency.

Jim Steets, an Entergy spokesman, declined to speculate on what measures the NRC may take while Entergy waits to see whether it has satisfied FEMA’s concerns.

“We understand there is still a review process. But we did all we could,” Steets said. “We have an operating siren system now. In fact, we have two.”

Entergy agreed in late 2005 to replace its sirens. A series of siren failures that year led to elected officials calling for the NRC to require a better system. The new system was supposed to be in place by the end of January this year. The company received a 75-day extension from the NRC but missed its April 15 deadline, resulting in the fine. Sheehan said further enforcement action, if any, could include another fine or other measures.

FEMA is studying whether the new sirens sound loudly enough individually so residents can hear them over background noise. Such a worry comes from Riverkeeper, an environmental group that is working to close the plant.

“The area that concerns FEMA, and that would concern us as well, is that the sirens aren’t loud enough,” said Phillip Musegaas, a Riverkeeper staff attorney. “Until FEMA has confidence in the plan, we’re not going to have confidence in it.”

Steets said the new sirens are loud enough to be heard outdoors.

“If you’re inside, you’re probably listening to the radio, watching TV or can answer the phone,” he said.

The new $15 million system includes battery backups for the 150 sirens, multiple activation methods by which Entergy can sound the sirens and a more reliable reporting system to alert local authorities if they have sounded.

Susan Tolchin, chief adviser to Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, said the county also awaited FEMA’s approval of the new sirens. Residents should be able to hear them inside their homes, she said.

“We’re definitely not rushing to praise Entergy,” Tolchin said.”

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