“Government licenses for the two nuclear reactors at the Indian Point plant – 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan and 40 miles south of Kingston – are about to expire.  The reactors are owned by Entergy Nuclear of Jackson, Mississippi, which has asked federal regulators to keep Indian Point operating for 20 more years.

Entergy officials state that Indian Point generates electricity safely.  But this is just an opinion.  In fact, Indian Point poses a health threat to millions.

The most ominous threat is that of a meltdown.  It stores enormous amounts of nuclear waste in deep pools of constantly-cooled water.  Any loss of cooling water, from sabotage or accident, would cause a release into the environment.  Safe evacuation of the area would be impossible, and many thousands would suffer from acute radiation poisoning or cancer.

While there has never been a meltdown at Indian Point, its aging and corroding parts are more capable of malfunctioning.  A recent report by Greenpeace identified five “near miss” meltdown situations at Indian Point from 1999-2003.  A successful terrorist act could also result in a meltdown; during the 9/11 attacks, one of the hijacked planes flew directly over Indian Point on its way to the World Trade Center.

But a worst-case scenario may not be necessary for Indian Point to harm local residents.  All nuclear reactors must routinely release some of its radioactivity into local air and water.  Over 100 cancer-causing chemicals make up this cocktail, including Strontium-90, Iodine-131, and Cesium-137.

There are four New York counties closest to Indian Point – Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, and Orange – with a population of 1.73 million.  Thirty years ago, the local thyroid cancer rate was 2% below the state.  But now, it’s 47% higher.  Because thyroid cancer is known to be caused by radiation exposure, emissions from Indian Point must be considered as a potential reason for this change.

A number of organizations – including the New York State Attorney General’s office – are attempting to legally block the 20 year extension of Indian Point, based on safety concerns.  Indian Point has become an aging plant with frequent mechanical breakdowns, a terrorist target, and a polluter.  New York should join the nationwide push towards more renewable and non-polluting electricity, and federal regulators should not allow Indian Point to operate for 20 more years.

Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation  and Public Health Project, a research and educational organization based in New York.”