Issue more compelling in the aftermath of Japanese disaster
By Kevin Foley
The Indian Point nuclear power plant, 10 miles south of Philipstown, is the object of increased attention and rising opposition, both regional and local, as regulators consider the renewal of its operating license in the aftermath of earthquake and tsunami damage to reactor units at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is scheduled to rule sometime in 2012 on owner Entergy Inc.’s application for a 20-year extension for the two units still producing electricity at its plant located on the Hudson River, in Buchanan, N.Y., just below Peekskill. But before the NRC’s anticipated approval, significant and varied forms of protest against the plant’s continued operation are expected, including demands for an immediate shutdown.
At a meeting of Philipstown for Democracy, at the Desmond-Fish Library on May 3, local activists listened to a speaker from Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC) and shared ideas about the best approaches to alert the citizenry and coordinate opposition to the plant. While they reached no consensus, clearly Philipstown will be among the many Hudson Valley communities seeing an increase in vocal opposition to Indian Point.
Several participants at the meeting spoke of the need for a variety of future actions. Dar Williams, well-known singer-songwriter, environmental activist and Cold Spring resident, said she is planning a May 12 open house at her home to encourage people to get involved and explore how pressure to close the plant can be brought to bear on elected and other officials through various modes of protest. “A lot of things are happening with green energy-hydro, solar, wind, that will be emphasized in our effort,” she also said later in the meeting.
After the meeting, Margaret Yonco-Haines, a leader of Philipstown for Democracy, forwarded an email urging attendance at a public hearing on Indian Point safety performance scheduled by the NRC for June 2 in Cortlandt Manor. The message said in part that “Entergy will be bringing in supporters by the bus load, we need you.” Other people at the Philipstown for Democracy meeting urged signing an online petition sponsored by Riverkeeper, the environmental group focused on the clean-up of the Hudson River and an opponent of the plant. The petition asks President Obama to appoint an independent commission to review the Indian Point renewal issue and to suspend any consideration of a license renewal by the NRC in the meantime. Also mentioned was a new group that has joined the fray, New York City-based Shut Down Indian Point Now, which is using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to galvanize opinion, advertise forums and organize protests.
At the meeting, Yonco-Haines introduced Marilyn Elie of IPSEC, described on its website as “a coalition of environmental, health and public policy organizations founded in 2001 to address the vulnerability of the nuclear reactors at Indian Point.” The site lists dozens of national, regional and local affiliated groups, all apparently committed to closing the plant.
After asking her audience of 20 people about their particular concerns, Elie responded by offering what she termed “a Reader’s Digest version” of facts, figures, history, science and arguments against the continued operation of Indian Point as well as suggestions toward mounting further opposition to the plant’s existence. In her low-key, 90-minute presentation, she did not shy away from accusing Entergy of lying, distorting or hiding critical information, doing serious harm to the Hudson River, and using corporate and philanthropic funds to influence public opinion. Elie, who resides in Cortlandt Manor, did not realize that parts of Philipstown are within the 10-mile evacuation zone and that the town residents receive the annual emergency preparedness booklet and hear the periodic practice sirens from the Indian Point alert system. Elie said that Central Hudson Gas & Electric, the principal electricity supplier for Philipstown, does not purchase any of Indian Point’s output. “You have all the risks, and none of the benefits. You are definitely involved if something happens at the plant,” said Elie.
She also asserted that Entergy and its supporters exaggerate Indian Point’s importance as a supplier of electricity for New York City and the surrounding suburbs, claiming it is actually no more than 5 percent of the city’s need, as opposed to the commonly reported 30-35 percent. She said Entergy Inc. increasingly sells its output on the national grid market to maximize profit and that closing the two reactor units would not harm current or even future energy needs of the immediate region.
Elie emphasized parallels between the Fukushima situation and Indian Point highlighting the fault line running beneath one of Indian Point’s reactor units making it more vulnerable to earthquakes. She also mentioned the similarity in fuel rods used and the difficult effort to control fuel rod radiation in Japan. She described spent rod storage at Indian Point as a growing and worrisome problem. Elie said her group had called for construction improvements to the containment casks that hold 100 tons of used radioactive rods and a new cooling system backed up by an off-the-grid power source so a grid failure doesn’t result in a cooling system shut down.
State government involvement
“We are fortunate to have him,” said Elie, referring to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has called for the plant’s closing. Elie recalled that in 1992, then Gov. Mario Cuomo led the way in closing the Shoreham nuclear plant on Long Island before it went on-line. While viewing the current Gov. Cuomo as the key ally in the fight, along with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Elie said that Congress removed most state authority over nuclear plants after the Shoreham situation. She noted that President Obama has included nuclear power as part of his energy plan for the country.
One remaining state prerogative is the review of a project’s water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act. Elie lauded the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for so far denying Indian Point a water-quality permit, a necessary hurdle in the relicensing process. The water issue involves the daily intake and outflow of approximately 2.5 billion gallons of Hudson River water used in plant cooling operations. The DEC is concerned that the temperature levels of the outflow are too high for the health of the river and its wildlife. The agency is also concerned that too many fish are destroyed from being sucked through the intake pipes.
Elie said that opponents want the DEC to continue to require a new recycled cooling system that would not need daily flows of river water. Demanding expensive new environmental and safety reforms is part of opponents’ strategy of trying to make the plant no longer economically viable for Entergy, Elie explained.
Elie pointed out that Shoreham’s unworkable evacuation plan was a major factor in its shutdown. Currently, the evacuation plan for Indian Point involves a 10-mile radius from the site. But the IPSEC and other opponents believe a 50-mile radius a more realistic plan, including all of Westchester County and significant sections of New York City. However, according to Elie, the idea is thwarted by NRC rules prohibiting factors not part of the original licensing plan from introduction in the relicensing process. “They will not consider a new evacuation plan, the population density of the whole region or our infrastructure that cannot handle rush hour twice a day, in deciding to let the plant operate another 20 years,” said Elie.
Elie urged her audience to get more involved and to recruit friends and neighbors as well. She suggested letter-writing campaigns thanking Cuomo, Schneiderman and the DEC for their efforts. She also suggested getting local elected officials involved and having local governments declare their opposition.
At the close of the meeting, Steve Laifer, a Cold Spring resident, expressed the general sentiment, telling Philipstown.info he intended to work with Dar Williams in finding ways to oppose the plant. “I can’t sit by and let this craziness go on,” he said.
(This is the first in a series of articles examining issues and reporting on significant events regarding the future of Indian Point)