“After nearly two years, the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan has all but satisfied federal regulators that the facility’s updated siren system can perform as a primary warning system. It’s about time. But there are larger issues about the plant’s operation that must be addressed.

The siren system will give four counties – Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Orange – a new emergency alert it can adapt as technology evolves. But the long path to this point is another reason the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must retool its requirements for extending licenses of nuclear power facilities, especially in this case.

Entergy Nuclear, which owns the plant, missed three deadlines in 2007 to install the system, and rushed to avoid missing another. The company was fined $780,000 as a result, and the budget for the siren system increased from $10 million to well more than $15 million. During recent full-volume testing, only one of 172 new sirens failed to operate properly. That was the third time the system had surpassed the minimum standard set by the NRC.

Several municipalities in the densely populated vicinity of the plant have passed resolutions demanding the plant be shut. While that would be ideal, the power generator from the plant wouldn’t be easy to replace at this point. The region’s congressional delegation has been pushing for at least an independent safety assessment of the plant before permits are renewed, and municipal officials in Westchester and nearby New Jersey launched a court battle over the issue of evacuation of the area around the plant.

Litany of problems

Indian Point has had a host of other problems, ranging from leaks of radioactive water that have had to be contained, to the failing warning signals and a shoddy evacuation plan. The licenses for the two reactors at Indian Point expire in 2013 and 2015, and Entergy wants to extend those by another 20 years.

The population density and the ability to successfully evacuate during an emergency are not examined in a 20-year license renewal, but they should be. Only issues such as managing aging pipes and other infrastructure or possible environmental impacts are considered in relicensing. That is not good enough.

The NRC is finishing up its review of the siren system and is expected to issue its final report by January. The relicensing procedure continues and promises to be contentious all the way through.

The problems Indian Point encountered with its new siren system back up the public pleas that the relicensing process must be made more rigorous.

Given the serious nature of the material involved and the plant’s proximity to millions of people, the highest standards should be used in determining Indian Point’s future.”

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