Indian Point: Disaster Awaits

In a city forever stunned and horribly awakened by the

terrorist attack of Sept. 11, there ought to be a new awareness of the ways in

which unexpected and  “impossible”

events can-and do-happen. This is why every New Yorker, provided with the

facts, must conclude that the Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 nuclear

reactors, located just 30 miles north of Manhattan, must be shut down

immediately. A meltdown or terrorist attack at Indian Point-both

of which are well within the realm of the probable, according to experts-would

make Sept. 11 look like a minor tragedy. 

Twenty million people-including every resident of New York

City and

those living in Westchester, Orange, Rockland, Putnam, Bergen

and Fairfield counties-would  have their

lives endangered, followed by years of widespread cancer from radiation.

Even before Sept. 11, Indian Point was a Chernobyl in the

making, with the worst safety record among the country’s 103 nuclear

reactors. And as The New York Times’ Bob Herbert pointed out in a recent

series of columns about Indian Point, American soldiers found diagrams of U.S.

nuclear plants when they searched caves in Afghanistan. Mr. Herbert also noted

that nuclear reactors were not built to withstand the impact of a commercial

airliner, and that American Airlines Flight 11 flew over Indian Point on its

way toward the World Trade Center.

Previously and wrongly seen as a “suburban” issue, Indian Point is a catastrophe

waiting to happen. City, state and federal officials-including Mayor

Michael Bloomberg, Governor George Pataki, andSenators Charles Schumer and

Hillary Clinton-bear full responsibilityfor averting this disaster now; to

do any less is to risk the lives and well-being of those who elected them. They

must spend whatever political capital they have and apply public and private

pressure on the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has final say over

the reactors. If  President George Bush

is truly concerned for the safety of New Yorkers, who have already lost so many

to terrorism, he will immediately call for Indian Point to be shut down.

Indian Point is owned by the $10 billion New Orleans–based

Entergy Corporation, which bought the two reactors from the New York State

Power Authority and Con Edison for about $1.1 billion in 2000 and 2001. Entergy

plans to run the reactors until their licenses run out in 2013 and 2025.  Indian Point has been good to Entergy: A company

press release states that for the fourth quarter of 2001, “Entergy

Nuclear earned $28.9 million, or 13 cents per share, compared to $19.1 million,

or 9 cents per share, in fourth quarter 2000. The increase was due primarily to

increased revenue resulting from the contribution for the full quarter in 2001

of the Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 nuclear units in Buchanan, N.Y., and

FitzPatrick nuclear unit in Lycoming, N.Y.”

Entergy’s chief executive, J. Wayne Leonard, and its board of

directors are naturally averse to taking the billion-dollar write-down they

would have to absorb if they closed the plant. But that would be far less

expensive than the cost of a nuclear meltdown, which would put Entergy out of

business and put an end to Mr. Leonard’s career.

What are the arguments against mothballing Indian Point? The

plant provides 7 to 8 percent of the electricity consumed in the state and is a

significant power source for the city. But shutting it down would notaffect the

quality of New Yorkers’ lives in any lasting way. The grid ofpower plants in New

England and the lower Hudson Valley, all of which run on coal, would take over.

There would be some risk of minor summertime power shortages-including

the possibility of sporadic brown-outs-and a 20 percent rise in electric

bills, according to The Times. This would be a small price to pay in exchange

for knowing that New York would no longer be 30 miles downwind of a profoundly

unsafe, poorly managed terrorist target filled with radioactive fuel. And by 2004,

several non-nuclear power plants now being built will be able to replace all

the power, and then some, currently being generated by Indian Point. Nuclear

plants do, of course, create less air pollution than other power sources,

though that argumentcollapses when weighed against the fatally toxic pollution

that would be released in the event of an attack or accident.

Is an accident likely? N.R.C. spokeswoman Diane Screnci told

The Times’

Mr. Herbert that the commission categorizes a reactor’s safetyby the

colors green, white, yellow and red, with green being the safest, red the least

safe. She told him that Indian Point 2 is “currently the only plant with a red

finding.”

In other words, it’s the most dangerous nuclear plant in the United States. In

2000, an accident at the plant released 20,000gallons of radioactive water into

a less secure area of the reactor, and the reactor was closed for a year. Last

December, the reactor automatically shut down after an unexpected electrical

malfunction. And it’s hardly comforting to learn that four of the plant’s

seven control-room crews flunked their annual qualification exams last year

when they failed to react properly in accident drills. In one test, the workers

took 25 minutes to realize that a valve they thought was open was actually

closed. Rather than being fired, the crews were given remedial training.

Entergy executives are blasé about the dangers (perhaps because

they live in New Orleans); a company spokesman says that any opposition to the

plant is a “political stunt.” Apparently they’ve

never read the 1982 N.R.C. study which reported that a meltdown at Indian Point

2 could kill 46,000 people immediately and injure 141,000. Entergy’s

evacuationplan, which Governor Pataki approved in a severe lapse of judgment,

is a joke; it applies to just a 10-mile radius of the plant. The inability tosafely

evacuate the much larger vulnerable zone of 50 miles around the plant-including

all of New York City-may hold the key for shutting down Indian Point. Evacuation

concerns are what doomed Long Island’s Shoreham nuclear plant before it

even got running, and it doesn’t take much to imagine the gridlocked

roads, bridges and tunnels that would result if news of a meltdown at Indian

Point flashed across TV screens.

The risks of a disaster at Indian Point far exceed the benefits

of keeping the facility operational. Mr. Leonard and Entergy’s

board of directors can save their reputations, and their company, by suspending

operations atIndian Point and overseeing safe disposal of its nuclear fuel.

Meanwhile, Governor Pataki must take a public and principled stand against

Indian Point before it’s too late. There is no need for New Yorkers to provideterrorists

with another golden opportunity.