The Brian Lehrer Show

The Point at Indian Point

Friday, June 03, 2011

Last night a hearing was held to discuss the future of Indian Point. WNYC reporter Bob Hennelly, discusses what’s in store for the power plant, located 40 miles from New York City.


Regulator and regulated: nuclear bedfellows?

Opposition is mounting to federal relicensing of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. With more and more New York politicians coming out of the woodwork, and debate far from dead in the public square, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a hearing last night about the plant’s 2010 safety review.

WNYC’s Bob Hennelly said there was a range of opinions expressed, but the overall mood was of a very particular stripe—not least because concerns are fresh after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, and how it happened despite regulation.

The meeting was dominated by people who really feel Indian Point should never have opened. And what happened in Fukushima—this is where the New York Times has done a great job really calling into question over there the relationship between industry and regulator. There’s a lot of questions by people like Congressman [Edward] Markey saying really, we’re not so dissimilar; there’s a sense that the NRC and the atomic industry are very much linked. How else to explain the perfect batting record when it comes to these relicensing extensions?

Passing the energy buck

Earlier in the day, Hennelly had been at a press conference regarding “Coptergate,” a mini-scandal surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his using a helicopter to get to his son’s little league baseball game. He told Jami Floyd that when he got to the Indian Point hearing, he estimated that the media presence was a paltry 10 percent of what it had been at the Christie conference. The U.S. media may have been distracted, but the Japanese ended up covering an event that went largely unreported by domestic outlets.

Whether or not you’re for or against Indian Point, we’re at a major crossroads in this country about energy, and I think it says something about the media that Japanese national television was there, and we had such a lack of showing from the mainstream media.

The problems are there, we’re just not talking about them or thinking about them as much as we should be, Hennelly said. As our energy demands grow and change, time may be running out before we’re forced to deal with our problems in painful ways.

We’ve let the licensing law lapse and we have this architecture for a 21st century circumstance where we’re dependent more and more upon electricity, what with cell phones and computers. We have not invested in that. We’ve not had a collective buy-in about what we’re going to do about energy. We’re dealing with a legacy of conflict-avoiding.

Seismic review

One of the problems with gauging the effectiveness of regulation is that technology is so complicated and shrouded. Hennelly said that because nuclear operations are, for the most part, kept out of the public focus, many of the reforms and improvements touted by regulatory agencies can only be taken at face value. Are we actually safer? Hard to tell.

The NRC basically says, we’ve upgraded, and you have to take their word for it that they’ve put in place overlaying security that would prevent something from happening.

The Fukushima disaster reignited interest in New York’s plate tectonics; earthquakes in the region are highly unlikely, but what if? Hennelly said that while most experts have dismissed the likelihood of a significant seismic disaster, there’s no reason to rely on old science. Things change.

When you have a technology with such high stakes, if something goes wrong, you have to continue to have it informed by new science. I’m not a seismologist, I don’t even play one on the radio, but clearly qualified people got the ear of Governor Cuomo and he set into motion an expedited seismic review.