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June 6th, 2004, 11:18 PM
June 6, 2004

Nuclear Power Plant in New York Prepares to Drill for Terror Attack


WASHINGTON, June 5 - For two decades, the emergency drills at the Indian Point nuclear reactors have been meant to show federal regulators how plant operators and local public safety officials would cope with a radiation release that began with a pipe break or a pump failure. But the exercise planned for Tuesday has a different script and a different audience.

The hypothetical crisis that will be the subject of the drill is a terrorist attack. And this time, the targets of persuasion are not only the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but also the local governments and the public. The maneuvering and arguments began last month, and include efforts by plant opponents to contend that no plan could be adequate.

The terrorism scenario is a first for an emergency drill at Indian Point, the nuclear plant closest to ground zero and the nexus of much anxiety since the Sept. 11 attacks. Among the differences in this exercise is the participation of the F.B.I., said a spokesman for Entergy, which owns Indian Point, in Westchester County.

But the radiation releases that game planners are sure to throw into the script are not new, said an under secretary of homeland security, Michael D. Brown, and the issues of emergency planning at the plant, in Buchanan, about 35 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, are no different from those anywhere else. ''The fundamentals are exactly the same,'' he said in a telephone interview on Friday, during which he expressed confidence in the emergency preparations.

A spokesman for Entergy, Larry Gottlieb, made a related argument. "It doesn't matter how the event starts; you have to deal with the emergency planning piece of it," he said.

Last Wednesday the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made similar points when he came to Capitol Hill to meet for 90 minutes with three members of Congress from Westchester, in an effort to persuade them that the drill would be a real test for plant officials, with no warning of what to expect, and that Indian Point can withstand various kinds of attacks. The previous week, he met with county officials in New York.

The chairman, Nils J. Diaz, may not have been successful in his meeting with the members of Congress, but he may have won some points for trying. "Chairman Diaz is to be commended for keeping members of Congress in the loop, but that alone doesn't make Indian Point any safer," said Representative Nita M. Lowey, a Westchester Democrat, in a statement. She has introduced legislation that makes local government approval of emergency plans a condition of operation.

Representative Eliot L. Engel, another Democrat who attended, said that he still has strong doubts about emergency preparedness, but that ''at least we had a frank discussion, and a chance to give our views."

While Mr. Diaz was meeting with the members of Congress, in White Plains the critics of the Indian Point nuclear plant, including members of the environmental group Riverkeeper and the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, were holding a news conference to complain that authorities and Entergy were not prepared for a catastrophic release of radiation. They said they feared that Tuesday's drill would be too narrow in scope. Opponents have been arguing that the drill is mired in the old concept of accident, not the new reality of terrorism.

They said hospitals would have trouble decontaminating large numbers of people, schools were not prepared to evacuate children safely and keep track of them, and widespread panic would clog roadways with people ignoring orders to "shelter in place" at their homes or workplaces.

"Common sense underlies many of our concerns," said Kyle Rabin, policy analyst at Riverkeeper. "Three years after 9/11, the Indian Point plan remains unworkable."

But Mr. Gottlieb of Entergy said that the plan was always workable and is improving. For example, he said, in this year's drill, officials deciding whether and where to order evacuations will use a new computer program with a much more refined picture of how long it takes to move people. The program, which incorporates weather and other data, estimates an evacuation time of roughly double what was previously assumed.

The activities of most participants will, in fact, be similar to those in prior years. About 1,000 people, including plant personnel, local public officials, public safety workers and test evaluators, will handle tasks like watching the weather and calculating the spread of a hypothetical plume of radioactive material, calculating doses, and testing the ability to take radiation readings in the field, to erect traffic barriers and to coordinate with one another.

The maneuvering before the drill involves a plant for which, alone among the sites where nuclear power is generated, the federal government has ruled that there is "reasonable assurance" of adequate emergency preparedness without the concurrence of local government. Agreeing with antinuclear activists, the county executives for Westchester and for Rockland, Orange and Putnam Counties, which all have sections inside the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone, refused to sign off on their parts of the plan.

But, Mr. Brown, the homeland security under secretary, said, "There is this technicality that we need their signature." The Federal Emergency Management Agency, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, is well acquainted with local capabilities, he said, adding, ''we don't need these technical things to know whether there is reasonable assurance or not."

Randal C. Archibold, in White Plains, N.Y., contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

June 8th, 2004, 10:52 PM
June 9, 2004

A Routine Drill at a New York Power Plant, With a New Focus on Terrorism


BUCHANAN, N.Y., June 8 - The crisis was coming fast and furious at the Indian Point nuclear power plant. First came a report that weapons, maps and documents concerning the plant had been found in a car on a highway in Connecticut. Then a Boeing 767 jet crashed near a transformer, causing a major fire and damaging several buildings.

"People were really scrambling and the mood was intense," said Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, who is now a risk management consultant for Entergy, the owner of the plant, and was in its command center during Tuesday's simulated emergency.

The emergency drill was the same exercise performed every other year at the plant, but for the first time, the script involved terrorism. The event, which involved more than 1,000 state and local officials in addition to the F.B.I., Norad and the White House, challenged local governments, including Putnam, Westchester, Rockland and Orange Counties, to respond to a staged crisis that started around 8 a.m. and lasted until 4. The possibility that a plane could crash into the plant has been a source of concern ever since Sept. 11, 2001, when a 767, the same type of plane used in Tuesday's exercise, flew over the plant on its way to the World Trade Center.

During the drill, officials pretended to mobilize firefighters, dispatch helicopters and redirect traffic. Evacuations of parts of Westchester, Rockland and Orange Counties were simulated. Operators at the plant were confronted with mechanical malfunctions that caused Indian Point to shut down, and they also faced a major valve rupture, which leaked radioactive water. But much to the disappointment of those who are skeptical of the plant's emergency plans, there was no simulated leak of radiation, leaving many unconvinced of the drill's effectiveness.

Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat and a longtime critic of the plant, dismissed the exercise as an "elaborate cartoon," calling it "a simulation of entertainment but little more."

Andrew J. Spano, the county executive of Westchester, where Indian Point is located, said he was unimpressed by the drill. "We asked for a scenario which would involve a fast-breaking release of radiation so that we could really be tested," he said. "Instead, we got a slow-motion drill with no actual radiation release into the environment."

But Michael J. Slobodien, director of emergency programs for Entergy, dismissed the criticism. "The whole critique that the drill was inadequate because there was no actual radiation released into the environment is unfounded," he said. "There was a leak at the plant which could have affected the population at large, which meant that all the counties had to be ready for a general release of radiation into the environment."

Mr. Spano also pointed out that gridlock, a major concern in a real crisis, was addressed only before the drill's evacuation stage. "It hardly came as a surprise that they reported that there was no gridlock," he said.

Around 30 protesters, some dressed in head-to-toe anticontamination suits, held signs saying "What About the Gridlock?" and "Forget about an Evacuation!" Kyle Rabin, a policy analyst from Riverkeeper, one of the organizers of the protest, said local hospitals had never had to treat the huge number of casualties that a real emergency would entail. He also questioned why the simulation did not consider the potential for contamination of a larger area. "In a realistic case, the emergency would last long enough that the wind might change directions," he said. "Why aren't they willing to take realistic situations into account?"

Representative Nita M. Lowey, a Westchester Democrat whose district includes the plant, which is 35 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, said in a statement, "It's welcome news that the drill included an air-based attack, which is vital since we know one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center flew over Indian Point." But she added that she was still concerned that the plant had not proven its ability to deal with a fast-breaking release of radiation into the environment.

Federal observers said the terrorism script made Tuesday's drill much more difficult than previous ones. "Something instantly happened,'' said Joseph F. Picciano, the acting regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, "and as a result the counties had to get on their feet really quickly." In earlier drills, problems typically began with a small mechanical malfunction and took hours to build up to a major crisis. "This was, 'Boom, the plane hits,' and we need to see decisions made," he said in a telephone interview.

Nils J. Diaz, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, speaking from his office in Washington, said he thought that the drill went well.

"There's always things we can do a little better," he said. "That's why we drill."

Dr. Diaz said that the drill was conducted in real time, without compressing several days' events into a few hours, at the request of the county executives, who said that this was more realistic.

He said the drill included placing calls to the White House Situation Room and receiving communications back. The F.B.I., the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and the Department of Homeland Security all participated, he said.

At one point, he said, when the "attack" appeared to have cut off the plant from outside power, the federal agencies prepared to bring in truck-mounted emergency generators, although eventually this was not needed, he said. "One thing the exercise demonstrated was the ability of the federal government to mobilize," he said.

Around the plant there was little sign of activity. Three heavily armed men stood sentry at the front gate, but a pickup truck, a string of sedans and a yellow Humvee went in and out with little seeming rush.

Traffic was light through the entire morning on Broadway, where the plant sits, as well as in neighboring areas and on Route 9, which leads to and from the plant.

On a residential street in downtown Buchanan, Tate Avenue, lawns were decorated with signs saying "Indian Point. Safe. Secure. Vital."

At Phil's Barbershop, Phil Nisi, the owner, shrugged dismissively at news of the emergency drill. "It's just a normal day," he said. "This is a quiet town, and it's a quiet day."

Matthew L. Wald and Marek Fuchs contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

June 8th, 2004, 11:06 PM


How worried should we be about the nuclear plant up the river?

Issue of 2003-03-03
Posted 2003-02-24

"Emergency Planning for Indian Point: A Guide for You and Your Family" is a booklet published as a public service by the plant's owner, Entergy Nuclear Northeast. Part "Hints from Heloise," part "Dr. Strangelove," the booklet has a cheerful blue cover decorated with drawings of a siren and a reactor dome. Inside, it is filled with tips like "Six Facts You Need to Know About KI—Potassium Iodide" (No. 1: it can protect your thyroid if you are exposed to radioactive iodine) and "helpful answers" to questions like "Could Indian Point explode like a bomb?" ("No. It is impossible for any nuclear power plant to explode like a bomb under any conditions.") At the back, there is an "Emergency Planning Checklist," which recommends, "If you are told to evacuate, you should bring enough personal supplies for three days," including a portable radio, potassium-iodide tablets, and "this planning booklet."

In total, Entergy printed more than two hundred thousand copies of the guide, which were mailed to households within ten miles of the plant, in northern Westchester County. Nowhere does the booklet explicitly mention sabotage, but this fear was clearly on the minds of the authors:

Q: How can I be sure that Indian Point is secure and well-protected?
A: Indian Point is defended by armed guards, sophisticated detection equipment and other advanced protection systems that meet or exceed federal, state and local requirements.

An attack on a nuclear power plant would seem to fulfill, almost perfectly, Al Qaeda's objective of using America's technology against it. In his State of the Union Message last year, President Bush announced that United States forces searching Afghan caves had indeed found diagrams of American reactors. Around the same time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, acting on information provided by the F.B.I., warned of a plot to crash a commercial aircraft into a plant. According to the N.R.C., the identity of the plant was not known; a captured Al Qaeda operative had told the F.B.I. that the specific target was to be chosen by a "team on the ground."

As potential targets go, Indian Point seems almost too obvious. It is situated on the Hudson River, in Buchanan, New York, some twenty miles north of the Bronx and thirty-five miles from midtown Manhattan. Nearly three hundred thousand people live within the plant's ten-mile "emergency planning zone," and another several hundred thousand reside within seventeen and a half miles, in the so-called "peak fatality" zone. More than twenty million people live within fifty miles of the plant. A 1982 analysis by a congressional subcommittee estimated that, under worst-case conditions, a catastrophe at one of the Indian Point reactors could result in fifty thousand fatalities and more than a hundred thousand radiation injuries. The same study calculated the cost of such an accident at roughly three hundred billion dollars. By an uncomfortable coincidence, American Airlines Flight 11, just minutes before it slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, flew almost directly over Indian Point's twin reactor domes. Apparently, the Hudson River was the landmark that the hijackers used to navigate by.

The Indian Point nuclear power plant, or energy center, as it is now called, is named after the spit of land, once home to an amusement park, on which it's built. There are two functioning reactors on the site, Indian Point 2 and 3, and a third, Indian Point 1, which has been closed for nearly thirty years. Recently, I went to Buchanan to take a look around. I had been told to report to the plant's emergency-operations facility, and when I drove up to it an armored tank was rumbling across the parking lot. Inside the facility, I was issued the first of several security badges and was introduced to Entergy Nuclear Northeast's director of emergency programs, Michael Slobodien.

Before I arrived, Slobodien had laid out a tableful of charts and diagrams, one of which was titled "Chernobyl-Indian Point Contrast." On the left side, it noted that "Chernobyl used flammable graphite for neutron control" and "did not have a comprehensive emergency plan." On the right, it said, "IP uses non-flammable water for neutron control" and has "modern emergency plans." There were also several large black-and-white photographs chronicling the construction of the reactors' four-and-a-half-foot-thick containment domes.

"This building was designed with the intent to withstand the tremendous energy of a massive release from an accident of some unknown origin," Slobodien told me, picking up one of the photographs. "We really don't care what the origin is. We just said, 'Let's assume that that happens.' Because that's kind of the worst-case situation you could envision. And, by the way, in our business everything is worst case. We always think about what is the worst that can happen, and we design to accomplish protection for the worst case." Slobodien told me that he had been one of the "responders" sent by the N.R.C. to Three Mile Island, outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, after the meltdown there, in 1979, and later had overseen the cleanup of the site. He explained, without a trace of irony, that, while one of the lessons of the disaster had been that "serious accidents can occur," another was that "the reactor design was successful."

Like Three Mile Island, Indian Point 2 and 3 are pressurized-water reactors. Each reactor contains a hundred and ninety-three fuel assemblies, and each assembly holds a hundred fuel rods—skinny zirconium tubes filled with pellets of enriched uranium. To produce power, the fuel rods must first be bombarded with neutrons. This sets off a chain reaction, which produces more neutrons, "fission products" like radioactive iodine, and a great deal of energy. The energy is used to heat pressurized water to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, and this pressurized water is then used to heat more water to make steam. The steam, in turn, powers a set of turbines, which, finally, generate electricity. (Together, the two reactors at Indian Point produce, on average, two thousand megawatts, or enough electricity to supply two million homes.) The chain reaction is carefully monitored and controlled; however, if, for whatever reason, heat is not carried away from the core, the fuel can melt and, in the presence of oxygen, catch fire. Depending on conditions, this can take hours or merely minutes.

Slobodien took me down to the emergency center's control room, a large windowless office filled with computers that, ideally, should never have to be used. (In a truly catastrophic accident, the emergency-operations facility might itself have to be evacuated, which is why there is a second command center, similar to the first, twenty miles away, in White Plains.) On the walls of the room were charts listing possible disasters, like "tornado strikes a plant vital area." The charts were color-coded by type of hazard, and each calamity was further specified by a numerical designation. On a table was a detailed map of the area around the plant.

Slobodien pulled out a set of transparencies illustrating how a plume of airborne radioactive contamination would travel under various conditions. He selected one that posited a wind coming from the north with a relatively high degree of turbulence. It showed the plume travelling south in a widening band. "The areas that are most affected would be the communities of Buchanan and Verplanck"—small towns right next to the plant—"and pretty much the river," he observed, laying the transparency over the map. Slobodien said that he was distressed by diagrams put out by the plant's critics which suggest that in the event of an accident radioactivity would drift in all directions.

"It doesn't really happen that way," he explained. "The concept that everything is affected all at once is clearly not true." The control-center map showed only the area within a few miles of Indian Point, so I couldn't tell what would happen to the plume once it travelled beyond that radius. I did notice, though, that as it was widening it was headed toward New York City.

Eventually, I tried to steer the conversation around to September 11th. In the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy and the F.B.I. warning, public concern has tended to focus on the possibility of another aerial attack. Whether the containment domes at most plants could withstand the impact of a fully loaded 767 is a much debated question; the N.R.C. is, somewhat belatedly, looking into this matter. There are, however, also many other possible scenarios. To cool its reactors, for example, Indian Point relies on the circulation of more than a billion gallons of water a day from the Hudson. Several groups, including the Green Party of New York and the environmental organization Riverkeeper, have tried to demonstrate the plant's vulnerability by boating—or, in one case, canoeing—near the cooling-water intake pipes. One of the groups claims to have made it within fifty feet of the pipes. I asked Slobodien what would happen in the event that the pipes were blocked, or destroyed.

"A lot of these things we don't talk about in great detail, for obvious reasons," he told me. "So, when it comes to the intake, all I will tell you is that you can block the intake and you still can successfully cool the reactor. Now, would it be of concern to us? Yeah, it would be of great concern to us. We would have to shut the reactor down, and we would have to do alternative cooling techniques, which we have available to us. Yeah, it would be of great concern. We don't minimize it. But it's not the kind of thing that leads axiomatically to, you know, the end, as some people would have you believe."

In a practical sense, insuring that Indian Point operates safely is the job of its owner, Entergy, but in a broader sense this responsibility belongs to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The N.R.C. describes its primary mission as "to protect the public health and safety," and to this end it not only licenses and inspects nuclear plants but continually analyzes the risks posed by them. If it deems a particular risk to be too high, it has the power to shut down a reactor—or, if need be, many reactors—until the problem is addressed; in 1975, for example, the commission temporarily closed all of the nation's two dozen boiling-water reactors—their design is slightly different from that of pressurized-water reactors—after finding a hairline crack at one of them. The N.R.C., however, has never defined what constitutes an unacceptable risk, and critics charge that its judgment on the matter has grown susceptible to outside influences. Just a few months ago, the N.R.C.'s inspector general issued a report chastising the commission for giving too much weight to the financial concerns of a nuclear operator. The report found that, despite compelling safety concerns, the N.R.C. had allowed the owner of the Davis-Besse plant, outside Toledo, Ohio, to delay an inspection for more than six weeks. When the commission finally performed the inspection, it discovered that acidic water had been eating through the reactor's lid—a process that, had it been allowed to continue, could well have produced a disaster.

"You have a very dangerous situation where the industry is calling the shots," Paul Leventhal, the president emeritus of the Nuclear Control Institute, a non-proliferation advocacy group, told me.

The N.R.C. began treating sabotage as a more urgent threat after the terrorist attacks of the nineteen-eighties, which included the bombing of the American Marine barracks in Beirut. In 1991, it introduced a program of drills, known as Operational Safeguards Response Evaluations, or osres, specifically to test plant defenses. In these drills, off-duty security guards were hired to carry out a mock attack devised by N.R.C. specialists. For obvious reasons, plant operators were alerted to the osres in advance; meanwhile, N.R.C. guidelines limited the attackers to three outside assailants and one insider, whose role was restricted to providing information. Between 1991 and 2000, the N.R.C. conducted the drills at the rate of roughly eight plants a year. Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 both passed in 1994. At nearly half of the plants tested, though, guards failed to repel the assailants before they had destroyed at least one so-called "target set." In other words, had the attack been real, the terrorists would have been in a position to cause potentially catastrophic damage.

Many plant operators were disturbed by this result, but not, it seems, for the reason one might have thought. They pressed the N.R.C. to replace the drills with more frequent security exercises of the operators' own devising. In a scathing assessment of this idea, David Orrik, a retired Navy captain who oversaw the osres and is still a senior official at the N.R.C., wrote that nuclear operators had demonstrated an "abject failure . . . to be capable—by themselves—of protecting against radiological sabotage. It took the threat of an osre to make them prepare to be 'ready,' and 47% still were not 'ready.' " In spite of this assessment, the N.R.C. was in the process of moving toward precisely the sort of program the operators were advocating when the attack on the World Trade Center occurred. At that point, the commission suspended all anti-sabotage drills, owing, as its chairman, Richard Meserve, put it, to the general "high level threat environment."

The N.R.C. is now in the process of redesigning the osres, presumably to better reflect the sophistication of international terrorists. The commission has said that when the redesign is completed, in the next few months, it will ask several plants, each in a different region, to volunteer to try out the new drill. Officials in New York, including Senator Hillary Clinton, strongly urged that Indian Point be one of them, and recently the N.R.C. announced that it would be.

After Slobodien had shown me around the emergency-operations facility, I continued my tour of Indian Point with Jim Steets, the communications manager for Entergy Nuclear Northeast. Steets is tall and lanky, with prematurely gray hair and an easygoing affability. He has worked at Indian Point for ten years, a period during which the plant has posed more than its share of public-relations challenges.

In May, 1992, the N.R.C., after having identified a long list of safety lapses at Indian Point 3, including one that caused a six-month failure of the backup reactor-shutdown system, fined the reactor two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars and put it on a watch list for heightened scrutiny. (At the time, Indian Point 3 was owned and operated by the New York Power Authority, and Indian Point 2 was owned and operated by Consolidated Edison.) Shortly after this fine was imposed, engineers at the reactor noticed a problem with a set of valves, and rushed to replace them before an N.R.C. inspection. In their haste, the engineers put the new valves in backward, blocking the cooling systems. The power authority fired several of its top officials and voluntarily shut down Indian Point 3 in order to conduct a safety overhaul. This overhaul was supposed to be completed in six months but ended up taking two and a half years. One N.R.C. official compared the reactor to "a plane losing altitude," while others, with a nod to "The Simpsons," dubbed it "Homer on the Hudson."

"Basically, it boiled down to poor management," Steets told me. "You could write a book on it, in all honesty."

In the late nineties, as Indian Point 3's record finally seemed to be improving, Indian Point 2's went into decline. In 1997, the N.R.C. found that electrical breakers at the reactor had not been properly inspected or maintained, and imposed a fifty-five-thousand-dollar fine on Con Ed. A year and a half later, the breaker problem still hadn't been fully resolved, an oversight that, thanks to a string of related errors, one day left the control-room alarm system without power. The N.R.C. was still figuring out the proper penalty for this incident when, in February, 2000, a tube in the reactor's steam generator ruptured, spilling twenty thousand gallons of radioactive water. The reactor received a "red finding," the N.R.C.'s lowest safety rating, and spent most of the rest of the year out of operation.

Entergy had completed its purchase of Indian Point 2 and 3 by the summer of 2001. At that point, many people at the plant, Steets told me, were hopeful that a new era was beginning. To celebrate the event, the company put up an enormous tent by the river and threw a party. "We had a great, great day out here," Steets said of the party, which took place just four days before September 11th. A month later, four of the seven control-room operating crews at Indian Point 2 failed an annual relicensing exam. Four months after that, also at Indian Point 2, a security guard was fired for pulling a gun on a colleague in an argument over a glass of orange juice.

Steets had promised to show me whatever there is to see at a nuclear reactor, and so we got into his car and drove down to Indian Point 3. The area right around the reactors, called the "protected area," is much more heavily guarded than the area around the emergency-operations center, which is called the "owner-controlled area." On the drive, we passed a tall chain-link fence rimmed with concrete barriers and topped with motion sensors. A truck was idling at the gate while a guard inspected its undercarriage with a mirror on a long pole.

Before I could enter the plant, I had to get a badge from a guard carrying a semi-automatic rifle and pass through a metal detector, an explosives detector, and, finally, a radiation detector. Next, I had to go upstairs to get a dosimeter, as well as a brief, government-mandated lecture from a radiological engineer named James Barry. On the way to Barry's office, I passed signs printed with slogans like "star: Stop, Think, Act, Review" and "step: Safety Takes Employee Participation." One poster said, "IP3 Practices alara," which stands for "as low as reasonably achievable" and refers to radiation exposure. Another urged employees to "Save an mrem Today." (One millirem is equal to a tenth of the amount of radiation a person would be exposed to in a typical chest X-ray.) Barry told me how to respond in the event of an alarm—"the one thing we don't want you to do is run or panic"—and informed me that if I saw anything that I thought constituted a hazard to myself or anyone else I had "the right to go to the N.R.C." Then he took Steets and me over to a bank of computers that read our dosimeters, through a set of doors of the sort typically seen in prisons, and down to a huge concrete tub filled with water. At the bottom of the pool, metal racks holding spent fuel rods were just barely visible.

For more than three decades now, the federal government has been planning to construct a repository for spent uranium, with limited success. (The repository now under construction at Yucca Mountain, in the Nevada desert, will not be open until at least 2010, if it opens at all.) In the meantime, like every other reactor in the country, Indian Point has been obliged to store its spent fuel on-site. By now, Indian Point 3 has collected six hundred and twenty-four tons of the stuff, and Indian Point 2 has amassed eight hundred and eight tons. Although the fuel is of no use in generating electricity, it is still highly radioactive and produces a great deal of heat, which is why it must always be kept submerged. Two years ago, after much prodding from groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, the N.R.C. released a study looking at the risks of a spent-fuel fire. While the commission concluded that the risk of such a fire was low—the fuel would have to be left out of water for several hours—it acknowledged that the consequences "could be comparable to those for a severe reactor accident." This finding is frequently cited by critics of Indian Point, who note that the spent fuel is housed outside the containment domes, in buildings that are comparatively vulnerable, and that it contains a host of extremely dangerous "fission products," including radioactive iodine, radioactive cesium, and strontium. Gazing down into the pool, I couldn't help wondering—even though I realized that this was not the issue—what would happen if someone fell into it. There was a lot of noise from water rushing around, and a sign that said, "Do Not Linger." Before turning in our dosimeters, we all had to have full-body radiation scans, a process that involved climbing into a closetlike structure, first frontward and then backward. I set off an alarm during mine but was assured that it didn't mean anything.

As Steets and I were leaving the plant, we passed the control room. It was filled with visitors from an international nuclear operators' association, so Steets offered to take me to see the control-room simulator instead. The simulator is an exact replica of the control room, with glass replacing one wall to allow observation of trainees. When we arrived, a large white-haired man was leading two nervous-looking younger men through a training exercise. The older man told us that the younger men were trying to keep the reactor from overheating despite eight simultaneous malfunctions. I asked him how the exercise was going to end.

"Oh, I'll be a nice guy and give them a pump back," he said, adding that before that he would probably let the temperature of the reactor core get up to eleven hundred degrees. (The tubes holding the fuel start to crack at twelve hundred degrees.) For the first time during my visit, I thought Steets looked discouraged.

After the meltdown at Three Mile Island, the N.R.C. resolved that every nuclear power plant in the country had to have an evacuation plan. Indian Point's was put together by Westchester, Rockland, Orange, and Putnam Counties, in conjunction with the New York State Emergency Management Office. It details everything from the routes that buses should follow to the intersections where police should direct evacuees. The section of the plan devoted to Westchester County alone runs to two volumes, each several hundred pages.

Last summer, in the midst of his reëlection campaign, Governor George Pataki ordered an independent evaluation of the plan. (At the time, Riverkeeper was running a series of ads showing the plant in the center of a bull's-eye and calling on the Governor to "get the target off our backs.") The study was conducted by James Lee Witt, a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and ran to more than five hundred pages. When it was made public, in January, the plan documented what just about everyone who lives in the region suspected: that there are simply too many people and too few roads around the plant for the area to be evacuated effectively. In an accident, only those people living in the expected path of the plume would be ordered to leave their homes; however, as the report noted, inevitably people all over the region would try to get away—a phenomenon known as a "shadow evacuation"—which could produce chaos. The report called the plan "not adequate . . . to protect the people from an unacceptable dose of radiation."

The release of the Witt report, as it has come to be known, triggered—or perhaps just provided the excuse for—a political shift in New York. The Westchester, Rockland, Orange, and Putnam county executives all declared that this year they would not sign off on the evacuation plan, as they are required to do annually. Subsequently, the state, which is supposed to send on its approval to the federal government, announced that it could not vouch for the plan, either. By now, dozens of elected officials in the region have come out openly against Indian Point, including Representative Sue Kelly and Representative Nita Lowey, of Westchester, and Representative Eliot Engel, of the Bronx, who have called for the plant to be shut down, at least temporarily.

What happens next is largely up to the N.R.C. Under its own rules, the commission would seem to have grounds to close Indian Point—the very groups that are supposed to carry out the evacuation plan have now deemed it inadequate—but that seems unlikely. (The last time the N.R.C. ordered a plant shut over its owner's objections was back in 1987, when inspectors arrived at the Peach Bottom Unit 3 reactor, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and found the control-room crew fast asleep.) Indian Point supplies ten per cent of New York's power, and while this electricity could be purchased elsewhere, it is estimated that utility bills in the state would rise by a billion dollars a year if the plant were closed. Meanwhile, whatever decision the N.R.C. reaches is bound to have ramifications far beyond New York. Because of the number of people who live around Buchanan, the risks may be quantitatively higher at Indian Point than at other reactors, but qualitatively they're really no different. In this sense, shutting down the plant would, effectively, be acknowledging that in a post-9/11 world nuclear power just isn't worth the gamble. Two weeks ago, in the middle of a heightened terrorism alert, Richard Meserve, the N.R.C.'s chairman, faulted the Witt report for giving "undue weight" to the risk of a terrorist attack.

Along with helping to distribute "Emergency Planning for Indian Point," Westchester County recently held several potassium-iodide giveaways and invited members of the public to pick up free tablets for their families. Even though I live on the other side of the county from Buchanan, more than ten miles outside the evacuation zone, I kept thinking that I really ought to go to one to get some for my kids. (Children are particularly vulnerable to thyroid damage.) A few weeks ago, I decided to visit a local drugstore instead. By that point, a lot of other parents had evidently made the same decision, because the pharmacist told me that I was getting his last three packages. They came in a thin cardboard folder marked "thyroid blocking in a radiation emergency only."


June 9th, 2004, 02:03 AM
On a residential street in downtown Buchanan, Tate Avenue, lawns were decorated with signs saying "Indian Point. Safe. Secure. Vital."

I feel you. :(

TLOZ Link5
June 10th, 2004, 02:44 PM
I'm working for NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group), one of the groups campaigning for Indian Point's shutdown, over the summer. No matter how big or how small the evacuation zone is, there is practically nowhere to run, including in New York City save for Staten Island's southern tip. It is completely impractical to attempt an evacuation of 20 million people in a 50-mile radius; it's already been shown that an evacuation of the area within a few miles of the plant would take at least five hours.

NYPIRG, of course, is in charge of the Straphangers Campaign, pushed through the recycling bill in New York State in the 1980s, and helped refinance the state Superfund last year.

June 10th, 2004, 05:45 PM
Ironically, an evacuation plan illustrates that safety is taken seriously. I wonder whether numerous chemical plants, gas storage facilities, and oil refineries around the country have an evacuation plan.

The debate about the Indian Point power plant shutdown is driven by politics and misinformation, not by serious risk assessment. No doubt, evacuation of 20 million people is impractical, the question is what is the probability? I don’t want to say it’s exactly zero, however, the probability of a large meteorite striking the Empire State Building are not exactly zero either (and no one is concerned about such an event :shock: )

And what is going to be done to replace the energy production: “clean coal”? a field of 50,000 wind turbines?

June 11th, 2004, 12:56 AM
June 11, 2004

Officials Praise Performance in Disaster Drill at Indian Point


HARRISON, N.Y., June 10 - Federal officials said on Thursday that a drill at the Indian Point nuclear plant this week showed polished and prudent reactions by county, state and plant officials. But critics of the plant were skeptical.

The officials said a more detailed final report will be released in about 90 days. The drill involved faking the deliberate crash of a plane into the plant, but it was limited to communications drills, without live road blockades or attempts to simulate evacuations in the outside world.

Officials of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said at a news conference that more than 20 problem areas noted in past drills were handled well this time.

Several new concerns, such as Westchester's communication with Bergen County, the availability of public information in Spanish and the need for press releases to be sent to neighboring states, cropped up, they said.

Critics of the plant and its evacuation plan called the drill nothing more than hollow play-acting and said it was unlikely that a plane crash would have resulted in no radiation being released outside the plant, as the drill specifiedl.

But Hubert J. Miller, a regional administrator of the regulatory commission, said that "sophisticated and state-of-the-art" studies showed that no radioactive plumes would result. "You can't ignore the science," he said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

June 11th, 2004, 09:18 AM
"You can't ignore the science"
But, yes, of course you can. Politicians and activists do it routinely.

June 20th, 2004, 04:54 PM
June 20, 2004


A Pretend Response to a Pretend Emergency



THE risk of a major release of radiation from the Indian Point nuclear power plants is small, but the consequences would be extraordinary, permanent and catastrophic. Put aside whether Indian Point is cheaper (it actually isn't - taxpayer subsidies for waste disposal, insurance, pollution controls and emergency planning merely make it seem cheaper) or how unsafe it may be. The plant's owners and defenders point to the evacuation plan as the public's ultimate protection against disaster. There is a level of intellectual and institutional dishonesty about that claim that is astonishing.

We took the first hard look at the Indian Point evacuation plan right after 9/11. It is filled with small and large idiocies that defy logic and experience. For example, the plan suggested that parents would leave their children at school to be evacuated by buses, and not seek to reunite with them or other family members. The plan assumed the roads would not immediately clog up, because people who live outside a 10-mile radius of the plant would stay put once a radiation release was announced. It assumed that schoolchildren would be evacuated before the public learned of the radiation release, and that New York City residents would not try to leave the area. The plan didn't have sufficient buses to carry out residents and it assumed that bus drivers would voluntarily return to the 10-mile zone for more evacuation trips. Perhaps what was most unbelievable was that the most likely advice given the public would be to stay home, close the windows and turn on the radio. No kidding.

It wasn't enough to simply point out that the whole thing defied common sense. As opponents of the plant, we provoked a full campaign to get local governments and the state to stop certifying the plan, which succeeded. But we ran up against the federal government - in particular the Federal Emergency Management Agency - which denied and delayed fulfilling its own legal responsibility to tell the truth. After a few essentially minor changes in the plan, we had another annual exercise in group madness earlier this month, the evacuation "drill" - a pretend emergency, and a pretend response.

There is no doubt that local officials and emergency personnel worked hard at the drill. But the sincerity of local officials is no substitute for a federal government that will first tell the truth about the impossibility of evacuating residents of Westchester and New York City and then stop protecting and subsidizing the nuclear industry. The first step is to end the drill of a hopeless plan that is closer to a cartoon than a life-saving protection. Even a good drill of a bad plan can't protect us.

There are serious questions about the future of Indian Point that need public discussion. How can we replace the energy it produces? Can we stop its pollution of the Hudson River? Why should taxpayers pay the cost of emergency evacuation and waste disposal? And in the end, is it worth the risk?

We can't rely on the plant's defenders or the federal government to help us answer these questions. And we can't hope for a rational debate when the plant's proponents still insist that a drill can protect us if the worst happens.

Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky represents New York's 92nd District.

Why Running From Disaster Might Not Be a Good Idea


IN the recent emergency drill at the Indian Point nuclear power plants, one point seems to have been obscured: it's highly unlikely that many people would die from radiation released in a terrorist attack.

As an independent consultant who has reviewed emergency planning for Entergy, which owns Indian Point, I have had the opportunity to review many disaster scenarios. While studies come with obvious limitations, it is abundantly clear that natural forces would profoundly limit the number of early fatalities caused by a terrorist attack or some other disaster. It's also clear that the risks to people in the four surrounding counties would be quite different, with 99.9 percent of the small initial fatality risk occurring in Westchester County within about two miles of the site.

One recent Entergy-sponsored terrorist study, conducted by a group of nuclear safety scientists, was built around the following extreme assumptions: a huge hole in the containment building, destruction of all emergency equipment, no action by the security guards or the operating crew, and a reactor meltdown. Using up-to-date figures on population, weather data and traffic patterns, experts made a series of calculations to determine the health consequences from the radioactive material expected to leave the site.

These extreme assumptions were then coupled with another extreme assumption: a failed emergency plan. It was assumed that the public would be unaware of the terrorist attack for six hours and that a release of radioactive material had occurred. When the people got the news, they left the area at six miles per hour.

Under this scenario, there were fewer than 29 initial fatalities in the 10-mile emergency planning zone. Some 99.99 percent of the zone's population would survive, largely because natural forces would protect them. (These natural forces include trapping of much of the radioactive material in the containment facility and a narrow and weakening offsite radiation plume.) Only those people exposed to the plume within two miles of the reactor are at risk of becoming early fatalities. If people simply took shelter (limiting exposure to outside air, staying in a basement, etc.) and then left the area six hours later at six m.p.h., the estimated initial fatalities would drop from 29 to 12. Better yet, timely evacuation at three m.p.h. or more would result in near zero early fatalities. This means that just walking at normal speeds for a short distance from the damaged plant would bring people to a point of safety. Timely evacuation of the two miles next to the site is a preferred emergency response for Westchester, but probably superfluous in the other counties in the emergency zone.

Most people in the zone would not be at risk. These residents would do well to listen to emergency broadcasts in case there is a wind shift, at which point they might be advised to take shelter until the plume had passed. This mix of localized evacuation, sheltering and staying indoors is much simpler than large-scale evacuations and far more effective.

Indian Point is not a "soft target'' - that is, a vulnerable and undefended structure - for terrorists, because of its security systems, robust buildings and multiple safety systems. In the unlikely event of a terrorist attack, the health consequences would be small. While the loss of any life would be tragic, these studies make clear that the potential for damage is far greater when it comes to attacks on soft targets like the World Trade Center, trains in Madrid - or Westchester's dams or chlorine-based water treatment facilities. Fears about fast-breaking accidents are not scientifically supported and the release of radiation from spent fuel pools can easily be handled by the present emergency plan.

This suggests that while these Indian Point emergency planning studies should certainly be completed, we would do well to focus our attention on more vulnerable targets throughout the region.

Herschel Specter, chairman of a Department of Energy committee on emergency planning in 1984, was the federal regulator in charge of reviewing the licensing of Indian Point 3.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

July 4th, 2004, 04:14 PM
July 4, 2004


Indian Point Evacuation Plan? (2 Letters)

To the Editor:

I read with interest your two Op-Ed articles about the recent Indian Point emergency drill ("Indian Point: A Dialogue," June 20). The only way we can determine if an evacuation plan can work is to test out the plan with residents.

So far, there have been no practice drills. My suggestions: Have the sirens go off at a designated hour. Evacuate students from their schools, seniors from their nursing homes, close down businesses - encourage people to go to their designated safe areas.

Send in the police to make this evacuation as orderly as possible. Family members should figure out how they will connect with one another during an evacuation.

My guess is that most people (including me) would have no idea what to do if an evacuation is ordered.

When I was in school, we had emergency fire drills periodically. Students knew what to do. We should take the same approach if we want to prepare for the worst-case Indian Point scenario: a meltdown or a terrorist attack.

Town Supervisor, Greenburgh

To the Editor:

Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky ("A Pretend Response to a Pretend Emergency," Op-Ed, June 20) just can't accept that for 30 years the Indian Point Energy Center has stood up to unprecedented, rigorous scrutiny from numerous federal and state agencies.

The security and emergency planning aspects of the plants have been even more intently inspected and evaluated since 9/11. Federal officials outlined this in considerable detail at a June 10 public meeting that Mr. Brodsky did not attend.

Mr. Brodsky declines to mention that if existing generating plants in the state could replace Indian Point's power, greenhouse gas emissions would increase by 14 million tons annually and air pollution levels would increase.

As a health physicist and manager who worked at Indian Point before retiring, I have been very comfortable living with my family less than four miles from the plant. The clean, safe, low-cost energy Indian Point provides makes New York a much better place.

Garnerville, N.Y.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

TLOZ Link5
July 4th, 2004, 05:12 PM
And what is going to be done to replace the energy production: “clean coal”? a field of 50,000 wind turbines?

A belated answer to your question:

New York State is required by law to produce a surplus of electricity, and Pataki has already made an effort to promote renewable energy as a large portion of the state's power source. Considering that Indian Point has been temporarily out of service many times before and there hasn't been a shortage of electricity, there is some doubt as to whether its permanent shutdown will be a huge loss to the grid.

September 22nd, 2005, 01:23 AM
Indian Point Leaks

By Jim Fitzgerald / New York Daily News (http://www.nydailynews.com/boroughs/story/348177p-297140c.html)
September 21st, 2005 4:05 pm


A small amount of slightly radioactive water has leaked from the spent-fuel pool at the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant in Westchester, officials said yesterday. Spokesmen for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and for plant owner Entergy Nuclear Northeast said the water was found several feet underground and posed no danger to the public or to plant workers.

Less than a pint a day has been collected since the water was spotted in late August, and soil samples show no radioactivity a few feet away, they said.

"We see nothing at this point that indicates any widespread contamination," commission spokesman Neil Sheehan said.

He said there was "nothing to the extent that anyone exposed to it would suffer any severe health effects."

Nevertheless, the NRC launched a special inspection, he said.

Indian Point's critics said the leak was another indication that the plant should be closed.

The 40-foot-deep pool, which has a steel liner, holds the highly radioactive fuel assemblies used in the nuclear reactor. The rods of fuel are submerged to shield them from the air, and the water in the pool becomes slightly radioactive.

The pool remained structurally sound, with the water found along hairline cracks outside its walls during an excavation and reinforcement project, Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said.

The pool often has been criticized by opponents of the two Indian Point plants in Buchanan, 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan, not because of leaks but because they say it is not protected well enough from an air attack.

Lisa Rainwater, spokeswoman for the environmental group Riverkeeper, said the leak shows "that neither the federal government nor Entergy is capable of protecting the public from a potential radioactive release from Indian Point."

State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), another longtime Indian Point critic, said, "This continues a pattern of people telling us everything is fine when it's not."

All contents © 2005 Daily News, L.P.

September 22nd, 2005, 09:47 AM
According to the latest report discussed in another thread, the worst nuclear disaster on a power plant, in Chernobyl, with tons of radioactivity blown around, resulted in 56 dead so far.

Now let's calculate how dangerous is this slightly radioactive pint of water. About as dangerous as a pint of beer.

The society spends billions on small radioactive leaks that could have been better spent to prevent the leaks in the levees of New Orleans.