“C. Scott Vanderhoef says the risks of the nuclear plant are not worth the rewards.

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said Tuesday that while he is confident in the government’s Indian Point evacuation plan, he still believes the nuclear plant should ultimately be closed.

“My own personal belief is that no matter how good your plan is … there’s always a hiccup, there’s always a problem, there’s always something behind something else that creates problems, and that we live in too densely a populated area to assure the safety and health of every single resident,” Vanderhoef said while participating in Rockland County Government Day at Rockland Community College. “And if I can’t do that, then the question becomes is nuclear power at that site, in this densely populated area, worth the cheap electricity it produces. And my response is no, that it should be closed. Not because I’m opposed to nuclear power, but because it’s in the wrong spot.”

The discussion began when Vanderhoef was talking to RCC faculty and students, along with other government officials, about what the County Executive’s office does. The talk was part of Rockland County Government Day, where various booths were set up to teach locals about what each department in the county government does. Vanderhoef’s speech was one of several “break-out” sessions during the event, where local officials talked to a small group about their specific role in the government.

Vanderhoef began by talking about the different jobs that a county executive has, one of which is serving as the chief emergency officer for Rockland. However, he noted that the one exception to this was in the case of a disaster at Indian Point, when the executives for Westchester, Orange, Putnam and Rockland would have to come together to decide the next course of action.

After making this clarification Vanderhoef moved on to discuss other topics, specifically how and why he chose to keep Rockland schools open the day after the September 11th terrorist attacks. But when Vanderhoef opened the floor up for a question-and-answer session, the focus quickly switched back to Indian Point.

One woman asked if the four county executives ever get together to discuss a possible evacuation plan. Vanderhoef said that they in fact practice such plans at least twice a year, each with different hypothetical scenarios. He noted, however, that a question has now come up about whether the evacuation radius should be 10 miles — as it is now — or 50 miles. This has mainly become an issue because officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended that Americans staying within 50 miles of the Japanese nuclear power plant impacted by the country’s recent earthquake should evacuate the area. Vanderhoef assured the crowd that the 10 mile radius would remain and that it was sufficient for evacuation.

“What NRC was they made a decision, in the Japanese plants, to tell Americans to evacuate within 50 miles of those plants,” Vanderhoef explained. “The reason they did that was because they could not get enough information from the Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Power authority, and they were fearing the worst, so they made a very conservative judgment to do 50 miles. […] So the question that is now is everybody’s mind is, ‘Is it 10 miles or is it 50 miles?’ The answer is going to be it’s 10 miles, but the NRC is going to have to explain themselves […] and then explain it to the public as to why the 10 mile limit is scientifically appropriate for purposes of getting out. “

Vanderhoef later pointed out that the 10 mile radius is in effect throughout the country, not just for the area surrounding Indian Point.

But, Vanderhoef said, no matter how often they practice these plans, something could still go wrong, especially in an area with so many people. Thus he stated that we must discuss whether alternative means of creating electricity might be better for this community, even if they are more expensive. He also suggested perhaps moving the plant to an area that is less densely populated.

“I just think there’s too much of a risk,” he said of Indian Point. “Why not biomass? Wind power? Different natural gas power? I understand it may be more expensive. Build a nuclear plant somewhere else, just not there.”

A final questioner asked Vanderhoef what they could do about this issue. Vanderhoef responded that people could write to different government officials, and the main topic they should discuss is the criteria by which the NRC decides whether or not to recertify existing nuclear plants.

“When you recertify a plant, you should recertify the plant based on whether you would build that plant today in that same location,” he concluded. “[…] Base it on those criteria, and I would suggest to you Indian Point would not be recertified. But the NRC doesn’t do that. The rules and the law say that they recertify based only on reviewing whether there’s an enormous environmental damage that might take place if it were recertified and to assure that it’s fundamental operations are continuing and they’re not too old. […] So if you write [to the government tell them to], ask the NRC, or pass a law at the federal level that requires the NRC recertifying any plant to review as if it were a new plant.””

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