The Cost of Indian Point: 44,000 Dead and $2.1 Trillion

With his New York City convention judged a big success and providing him with a formidable bounce in the polls, wouldn’t it be something if President George W. Bush showed that he had the best interests of New Yorkers at heart by applying pressure to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to close the Indian Point nuclear plant? As Mr. Bush well knows-or should know-there are 67 nuclear-plant sites in the United States, but only one of them happens to be in one of the nation’s most densely populated regions. Indian Point is 35 miles from midtown Manhattan; it has historically had the worst safety record of any nuclear plant in the country; and as Sept. 11 and subsequent intelligence has shown, militant Islam’s unholy warriors are interested in destruction and murder on a mass scale.

Now a new report, titled “Chernobyl on the Hudson,” and a documentary broadcast on HBO, Indian Point: Imagining the Unthinkable , illustrate how a terrorist attack on Indian Point could kill 44,000 people right away, cost the U.S. economy $2.1 trillion, and over the long term result in the cancer deaths of 500,000. And yet George Bush and Governor George Pataki have consistently put the interests of Indian Point’s owners, the New Orleans–based $10 billion Entergy Corporation, over the well-being of the 20 million Americans who live within a 50-mile radius of the plant.

Of course, Entergy doesn’t want anyone thinking about a 50-mile radius; their scandalously laughable evacuation plan covers only those 300,000 people living within a 10-mile radius of Indian Point. The new report, which was written by nuclear expert Edward Lyman and commissioned by the nonprofit Riverkeeper group, concludes that those living within 60 miles-which includes all of New York City-would be in severe danger in the event of a terrorist attack, such as a jet being crashed into the plant. Imagine a full-scale evacuation of the five boroughs. You can’t.

Mr. Bush’s N.R.C. and Entergy have dismissed the report. Dan Dorman, the commission’s deputy director of nuclear-reactor safety, argued with the science contained in Mr. Lyman’s analysis and actually told reporters that people shouldn’t worry about Indian Point’s safety because it was unlikely terrorists would ever again be able to hijack a large jet. What is he smoking?

This is a matter of national security, not of energy policy. Terrorists would stop at nothing to use Indian Point as the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. And New York has already provided them with their biggest victory. As Mr. Lyman writes in his report, “NRC can no longer shy away from confronting the worst-case consequences of terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants. And perhaps the most attractive target in the country, where the consequences are likely to be the greatest, is Indian Point.”

David Weprin: The Easy Way, And the Sleazy Way

David Weprin is a City Council member from Queens who thinks the West Side of Manhattan is the perfect place to build a new football stadium. He has held two press conferences during which he pledged his support for the proposal, which would bring the so-called New York Jets back home to the city of their birth after a long interregnum in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

Mr. Weprin’s position no doubt puzzles longtime students of city politics, because one could argue that Queens, Mr. Weprin’s home borough, is the right place for such a stadium. The borough lost the Jets to Jersey more than 20 years ago. Shouldn’t a Queens politician be agitating for the Jets to return to their ancestral home?

Perhaps Mr. Weprin is a fledgling statesman who, in a break with Council precedent, has decided to put citywide interests ahead of parochial pride. What a concept-and certainly one deserving of praise, if not outright astonishment.

Before we are overcome with warm admiration, however, we should take note of the rather interesting fact that after advocating for the new West Side stadium in two press conferences, Mr. Weprin immediately received two campaign contributions from Jay Cross, president of the New York Jets. Both checks were for $1,000.

Mr. Cross, who is trying desperately to persuade New Yorkers of the desirability of the West Side stadium proposal, is not known for spreading checks around New York’s political community. So his donations to Mr. Weprin can hardly be a coincidence, right?

Wrong-or so says Mr. Weprin. Rather than admit the perfectly obvious, he says that the timing of the Cross contributions was, in fact, a coincidence. There’s an easy way to handle this, and a sleazy way. Mr. Weprin chose the latter.

Even if Mr. Cross’ checks just happened to arrive after Mr. Weprin’s press conferences, the Council member certainly didn’t have to accept them. Blessed with a pretty fat campaign treasury of more than $360,000, Mr. Weprin could have returned Mr. Cross’ first check and explained that while he appreciated the offer, it just wouldn’t look right. Because it doesn’t.

Then again, it certainly didn’t look good when Mr. Weprin cited an analysis of the stadium proposal which showed that the facility would be a great economic benefit to the city. The analysis wasn’t done by the Council’s Finance Committee, which Mr. Weprin chairs. It was done by the Jets.

A coincidence, no doubt.

History: Just the Facts

Watching as the Bush and Kerry campaigns take the low road to claim the high ground, one has to pause and wonder how historians will regard the election of 2004. History, of course, has long been permeated by ideology, and thus the hope of ever getting an honest, unbiased accounting of the claims and counterclaims of this election season seems dim indeed. And a visit to the history departments in America’s leading universities would reveal the remarkable decline in intellectual rigor and systematic research that has reduced this scholarly field to an impassioned and incoherent grab bag of theories and forgettable books. But freeing history from the taint of ideology is one battle worth fighting, and it’s a battle that’s been fought with vigor and remarkable success by the historian Forrest McDonald.

As he notes in his new memoir, Recovering the Past , historians have forgotten that the essential task of history is to determine what actually happened, and the only way to do so is to go through the laborious task of collecting the facts- all the facts-before even attempting to draw conclusions. The idea that a historian could begin his or her research without having a prior opinion about what that research will show is indeed a radical one these days. But Mr. McDonald knows what he’s talking about: At age 21, his master’s thesis at the University of Texas took on Charles A. Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States , which had claimed that America was founded not on ideals, but on economic self-interest. When it was published in 1913, Beard’s book bent history away from the facts and toward a knee-jerk anti-Americanism that still infects the academy. Mr. McDonald’s thesis, titled We the People , debunked Beard and launched his own career, earning glowing reviews from many of the country’s top historians.

Mr. McDonald notes that if one succeeds in keeping an open, curious mind while amassing mountains of data, one arrives at a place distinctly different from the podiums from which so many contemporary historians spout their polemics. Instead, one arrives at a stunningly fresh encounter with history and, ultimately, with oneself as being part of the ongoing miracle of human life.