Odell Vetoes Evac Zone Resolution

Legislature called for a new 50-mile zone

By Kevin E. Foley

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell moved stage center into the issue of safety planning for the Indian Point nuclear power plant by vetoing a county Legislature resolution that called for an extension of the designated evacuation zone for the controversial energy producer.

The legislative resolution, passed by a 7-2 vote at a meeting on April 3, called for a formal extension of Indian Point’s evacuation zone from 10 miles to 50 miles. The 2011 radioactive disaster at the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear plants served as the underlying basis for the resolution’s concern that Indian Point represents greater risks than heretofore recognized. An extension of the evacuation zone and therefore the required evacuation planning raises many questions about practicality, costs and ultimately the efficacy of operating the plant beyond its current licensing date —  especially  given the proximity of Indian Point to New York City.

County Executive MaryEllen Odell, left, and Legislator Sam Oliverio (Photo by K.E. Foley)

County Executive MaryEllen Odell, left, and Legislator Sam Oliverio (Photo by K.E. Foley)

Sam Oliverio, county legislator for Putnam Valley, which along with Philipstown has large sections within the current 10-mile zone, said in a statement to resolution supporters that he will seek to override Odell’s veto, for which he would need six of the seven original “yes” votes. But he expressed reservations over his ability to muster them and called for a show of public support at a meeting of his Health, Social, Education and Environmental Committee at the Historic Court House in Carmel on May 14 at 6:30 p.m. Barbara Scuccimarra, legislator for Philipstown, voted for the resolution and serves on Oliverio’s health committee .

“Outrage hardly begins to describe my reaction” to the veto, wrote Steve Laifer, one of several local activists who worked to get the resolution passed, in an email to supporters. “This demonstrates the power of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. to overrule the people who live in Putnam County.”

Neither the resolution nor Odell’s veto directly affects planning for the plant, as it is under the jurisdiction of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). But an official position by the county government that the current evacuation zone is insufficient for public safety would add yet another point of contention to the current consideration by the NRC of the licensing status of the two plants at Indian Point. The county is responsible for coordinating evacuation plans with the NRC and Entergy Corp., Indian Point’s owner.

In her veto message Odell called for a reconsideration of the resolution with assured participation of Entergy and other stakeholders “to address the alleged deficiencies in the resolution.” Odell acknowledged that while participation had been possible in the original consideration of the resolution, she believed a greater effort was needed to develop facts and educate the public.  She was particularly pointed in repeatedly describing the legislative action as a “template resolution” developed by Riverkeeper, a Hudson River advocacy group and aggressive critic of Indian Point’s impact on the river and regional environment.

The matter of appropriate evacuation planning is hardly just a local or regional matter. Recently the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, issued a study questioning the safety of the 10-mile standard. Among its concerns is the effect of people outside the zone “self-evacuating” and potentially causing chaos on roads, impeding the ordered and planned evacuation from the 10-mile zone. The NRC issued a statement affirming its commitment to a 10-mile zone and its belief that evacuations can be conducted safely and effectively.

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10 thoughts on “Odell Vetoes Evac Zone Resolution

  1. County Executive Odell is misinformed on several counts. Riverkeeper has nothing to do with the Health and Safety Resolution she so cavalierly rejected. I can say this with great certitude because I was one of the members of the Indian Point Safe Energy who helped draft the Resolution. IPSEC is a grassroots coalition dedicated to closing Indian Point. However, the Resolution very clearly does not call for closure. That is now in the hands of the NRC. What we are asking for, among other things, is better and safer management of the dangerous high-level radioactive waste now stored on the site. This needs to be done no matter what happens with the reactors that are generating this waste.

    Unfortunately, it appears that the County Executive did not address the Resolution on its merits. The people of Putnam County are less safe because of her loyalty to Entergy rather than the residents of Putnam County.

  2. Thank you to Philipstown.info for covering a very important and neglected topic.

    The Indian Point Health & Safety Resolution is about more than just urging a 50-mile evacuation zone. It asks for numerous serious safety deficiencies to be corrected to reduce the chances of severe radiological exposure of our population and permanent radioactive contamination of our homes and communities as occurred in Japan. These deficiencies have been well documented, and the threat will remain even if the plant closes. For example, ye olde Indian Point has accumulated 40 years worth of “hot” spent fuel in cooling pools and current plans are to keep it there indefinitely. Most people don’t realize that if cooling is lost to these pools (through a power outage or breakdown) for more than a few hours, the water boils off, the spent fuel rods ignite, and the resulting radioactive cloud will, well, irradiate everything we hold dear.

    This danger could be dramatically reduced if there was backup power and a backup cooling system, but alas, those were never installed. The vetoed resolution called for this to be corrected along with other “no-brainer” corrective safety measures.

    Put simply, the veto by our County Executive MaryEllen Odell was a shameful betrayal of the public trust. By giving deference to an out-of-state corporation and vetoing a resolution urging commonsense nuclear safety measures to protect the 100,000 residents of Putnam County, she has demonstrated a serious integrity deficiency – and should have that checked out before it metastasizes.

    Why does Indian Point/Entergy oppose this resolution? Safety costs a lot of money and causes a major impacts on profits. Indian Point management has only one responsibility – an obligation to maximize profits. Part of that is keeping costs down. It is far cheaper to spread money around like the millions given to Carmel, or the tens of thousands given to Cold Spring and other communities around the plant than to spend it on correcting the multitude of safety deficiencies. Even with additional millions spent on lobbying and public relations to convince the public of the nuclear safety fairy tale though, it is still far less expensive than actual safety. Unfortunately for Indian Point, the Japanese disaster has exposed the nuclear-safety lie.

    Just an aside – in your story you refer to me as a local “activist.” That word carries a lot of baggage, and is often used by government and industry to demonize, discredit and marginalize opposition. Activist is also often found in paragraphs that contain the words “socialist” or even “anarchist”, and can be used to conjure up a picture of a reactionary, disaffected, misguided person on the fringes of our society. I’m sure this is not what you meant.. 😉 A better label might be “nuclear-safety advocate.”

    But in reality, I am just a responsible father who moved his family to Cold Spring 18 months before the Japanese disaster, and who received a huge wake-up call on Fukushima meltdown day. “If the highly advanced Japanese technological culture couldn’t keep their nukes contained, could it happen here too?” I wondered. After careful research, there was no doubt that it could…and so my advocacy began.

  3. Thank you Steve for contaminating this article with a pile of misinformation.

    Forty years of fuel is not in either spent fuel pool at Indian Point. A large portion is safely stored and cooled naturally in dry casks. Despite lack of power for days and with freshly offloaded fuel, spent fuel pools 3 & 4 at Fukushima adequately cooled their spent fuel with no melting, igniting, or radioactive cloud making. Alas, the spent fuel pools at Indian Point already have installed redundancies, backups, and numerous power supplies (on and off site).

    Operators at every nuclear plant are required by law to make conservative decisions about plant operations to protect the health and safety of the public first and foremost. Plants must operate per the license granted to them by the government, of which the word ‘profit’ is not included. Just because the plant owners live far away doesn’t mean the thousand workers also live far away. They live right here, within fifty miles of the plant, and have a vested interest in operating the plant safely.

    “Activist” does carry a lot of baggage. It usually infers that some very narrowly focused and heavily fogged up lenses are being used to present the situation and the truth is largely ignored. If you want to advocate safe operation of a plant that does not pour noxious byproducts of fossil fuels into the air (as every other major power supplier in this region does, which kills hundreds of thousands worldwide annually), then please try to actually learn about the safety systems in these plants. Read what actually happened at Fukushima and why. Also, understand that this industry is a learning organization and strives to make itself safer and more reliable.

    Finally, Putnam County is full of hazards and risks every day. From drunk drivers to hazardous cargo on our roads, railways, and on the river, to Lyme disease, house fires, and so on, it is a dangerous place. These risks are tangible, with events occurring frequently and impacting our lives regularly. When was the last time Indian Point harmed a Putnam County resident or any resident for that matter? Please, try not to be afraid of an American industry that brings power into your homes without polluting the air you breathe.

  4. Bryan, thank you for the update! I was unaware and have just confirmed that one of the requests in the vetoed resolution has indeed recently been implemented. The spent fuel pools finally have backup cooling installed – after 40 years of plant operation with no backup, despite safety advocates requesting it for decades. Nice pretending that it has always been there! Now how about implementing the rest of the safety measures in the resolution, and we can pretend they were always there too?

    Unfortunately it took a major nuclear disaster in Japan and an order from the NRC for this critical safety flaw to be finally corrected and fortunately, that disaster did not happen to us. That is why I am backing the Indian Point Health & Safety Resolution. I want to make sure the next nuclear disaster does not happen here either, and hope to see the remaining common sense changes in the resolution implemented before, rather than after a disaster.

    While I do appreciate your assurances of safety Bryan, only a fool would rely on assurances and representations from someone who has a financial interest in giving them, who’s income depends upon the operations of the organization they are actively defending. To borrow your analogy, nothing fogs a lens like money…

    Fortunately, there are much more reliable sources for nuclear safety information than Indian Point employees. Just ask the recently departed Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a nuclear physicist whose job it was to oversee nuclear plant safety in the U.S. He stated categorically and unequivocally two weeks ago that all currently operating nuclear plants are dangerous, flawed and should be shutdown. Or how about asking the political leaders of the contaminated towns and villages in Japan, who now publicly seek forgiveness for believing the assurances of safety from their nuclear operator, TEPCO. Then there is last week’s Congressional report stating nuclear evacuation plans are unworkable and deeply flawed. I don’t envy your job Bryan, you have some stiff headwinds.

    A few points of clarification:

    * 40 years of accumulated spent fuel is indeed stored on-site in Buchanan and yes, not all in the pools – there is so much it wouldn’t all fit. Some is in dry casks. In fact the Indian Point safety resolution in question calls for speeding up transfer from the dangerously overcrowded pools to safer dry casks, but your employer opposes it. Your company also opposes strengthening the plant to withstand the greater earthquake danger discovered by Columbia University’s seismologists, or hardening the flimsy steel roofed buildings “protecting” the fuel pools, or correcting the deeply flawed evacuation plan reported on by a former FEMA director.

    * You have written “Putnam County is full of hazards and risks every day,” and advance the argument that Putnam is so dangerous already, why worry about making Indian Point safer? Besides the argument being just plain silly, every danger you have referenced is trivial compared to the widespread consequences of a major radiological release.

    * It’s really quite laughable when folks try to spin nuclear power as some kind of clean power alternative. Spent nuclear fuel, the most toxic stuff on earth, dangerous for thousands of years with nowhere to put it, that’s green?

    * If, as you say, your employer is so keen on safety, why not call off the dogs, stop fighting the resolution and implement the common sense changes that are called for?

  5. Bryan Blackburn, who works for Indian Point, urges us not to be afraid of an industry that brings power into our homes. However Putnam County does not get any power from Indian Point, only health & safety risks.

  6. So should we conclude that workers in a potentially hazardous occupation are not allowed to defend their belief they are working safely? Should we let activists and fearmongers decide what is safe? If one believes they are a safety expert, they should apply for a job at a local nuclear power plant and make it safer.

    That departed commissioner mentioned above, why did he not make these statements while he was in charge of his organization? He was the leader and apparently lacked the courage to state his opinion until he was not in a position of power? Yeah, we should believe that guy! Thanks for pointing out he has a degree in theoretical physics and never worked in a power plant. He is a career politician, period.

    The American nuclear industry is different than Japan’s. Their regulatory system is different. That’s why I said actually read about what happened there and figure out why we are the same or different. There are big differences. There are positive changes being implemented in this industry from the lessons learned. Don’t forget that a 45-foot-high wave hit that plant. Will that happen here? What is that, about knee deep on the Statue of Liberty?

    I guess my point on hazards in this county went a little too high. My point is no commercial nuclear plant in the U.S. has ever physically harmed its surrounding residents. That is a big zero. Yes, there is a risk, but you must give credit (that the risk is being managed correctly) to an American industry this old with that kind of record. This industry understands how important that anything but zero is utterly unacceptable. The county has more frequent risks with lower consequences, but it cannot claim zero, nor anywhere near it.

    So what can be done with spent fuel? As you know, Congress has been fumbling this since the 1980s. The spent fuel wouldn’t be stored long-term on site at plants if this had been resolved back then. Even the ex-commissioner
    mentioned above helped mess up that situation a little more. Some see deadly waste (that again, has harmed residents zero times) and I see a lot of unspent fuel that could be recycled and reused as is done in other countries. I wish to end this constructively, so, since the fuel is already there and is a major concern, what should we do with it long-term, once it gets shipped away?

    • You talk about shipping the waste “away.” There is no such place as away. The Blue Ribbon Committee on nuclear waste suggested a community volunteer for the honor. I think they are still waiting for a response. No community wants to become the nuclear dumping ground for the nation. Furthermore many communities don’t even want to see high level radioactive fuel shipped through their neighborhood. When something so deadly for so many thousands of years is produced as a by product, any reasonable solid waste management program says stop producing it. The waste needs to remain on-site where it was produced. And just think about how long it must be monitored and how that will happen.

  7. Bryan, I appreciate your wish to proceed constructively. We do seem to be operating with two different giant bodies of information. Those of us who don’t work at the plant and who want the plant to shut down have many differing news sources, about Mr. Jaczko, safety, storage, and sustainable energy, from those who work at the plant.

    There is one major difference that goes beyond debatable safety controversies (and I hear you; there is plenty of room for debate). It’s not about the people who work at the plant. It’s about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Concerned citizens who are trying to understand more about IP don’t trust anything the NRC says. We see the NRC as a “captured agency”.

    The Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversaw banking and investments, got caught up in the financial incentives of the banking industry and in the end the SEC was controlled by the industry it was supposed to regulate, so it was called a captured industry.

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also sends many of their own into the nuclear industry, and from what I saw at the *abominable* hearing two years ago, where the NRC responded to every alarming scientific and safety question with “We are confident that Indian Point is safe,” I knew, as was confirmed by an article citing the number of NRC officials who enter the nuclear industry and the high salaries they earn post-NRC, that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had become a captured industry, too.

    In truth, I’ve heard of many positive interactions between people who actually work for Indian Point and the people who want to decommission it! But I can’t trust the umbrella interests of an industry that makes millions of dollars in profit a day (that’s net, not gross), overseen by a captured agency. Yes, we do not work at Indian Point, but we have done our best, as citizens, to learn what we can. We are getting a very clear sense of the politics and money governing an alarming range of issues, coupled with unsatisfactory answers about radioactive leaks into the Hudson River, fault lines, and fire safety protocols. That’s all we know.

    I am glad you work for Indian Point, insofar as you seem very dedicated and motivated, and I’ve heard about the protocols and back-up systems that have been implemented and how seriously everyone takes them. Bryan, you are the least of my worries.

    The industry and agency mind-melding, on the other hand, are untenable to me, and as for the relationship between Fukushima and Indian Point, all I can say is that one Japanese scientist came to the United States and said, almost trembling with rage because everyone had tried to silence him in Japan, “Everything they tell you about the safety of your plant is what they told us.”

  8. Political debate consultant Brett O’Donnell defines a pivot as “a way of taking a question that might be on a specific subject, and moving to answer it on your own terms”.

    Attacking safety advocates as fear-mongers, criticizing the Japanese regulators or spouting expertly developed nuke-industry propaganda are well-worn techniques calculated to distract attention from the actual issues brought forth in the resolution. They are:

    * The nuclear disaster at Fukushima has resulted in widespread dispersal of radioactive material in the air, land and water, and President Obama of the United States and Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Jaczko called for the evacuation of all Americans within a 50-mile radius of the stricken plants;

    * Radiological contamination from Fukushima has extended 140 miles to Tokyo reservoirs, and the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants are situated within twenty miles of the New Croton and Kensico Reservoirs in Westchester County and the various reservoirs located in Putnam County serving various communities as well as New York City with drinking water;

    * The New York State Emergency Evacuation Plans were thoroughly evaluated by former FEMA director and evacuation expert James Lee Witt and found to be inadequate to protect the public from radiological exposure; and that evacuation plan flaws and deficiencies remain unresolved;

    * The spent fuel rods at both Indian Point reactors are stored in warehouse-type buildings with commercially available steel roofs and are not constructed with the same containment capabilities used to protect the reactors;

    * New techniques and advances in seismology have disclosed additional information about the two fault lines near Indian Point and plant construction standards fall far below potential earthquake magnitude.

  9. If you have any or many concerns about the safety of Indian Point, we need you to come to the special meeting of the Putnam Legislature’s Health Committee on Tuesday, May 14th at the Putnam County Courthouse in Carmel, at the junction of Route 52 and 301.

    Entergy is expected to reassure the legislators and the public that Indian Point is still “safe, secure and vital.” But safety violations and innumerable safety exemptions given by the NRC are rampant. Security is compromised by guards sleeping on the job and in one recent instance the theft of about $50,000 worth of large amounts of copper cable and miscellaneous scrap metal by a Maintenance Supervisor arrested by the New York State Police in January. The theft is presumed to have occurred from July through December, 2012. Who’s minding the store?

    An article published in the International Journal of Health Services in 2009 found that thyroid cancer rates in the four counties surrounding Indian Point – Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester — are the highest in New York State. The thyroid cancer rates in those four counties around Indian Point are also among the highest in the U.S., with a rate of thyroid cancer that is 66 percent above the U.S. average, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    That the NRC refuses to take into account updated seismological information about two intersecting earthquake faults a mile from Indian Point, and that it also refuses to consider the flawed and unworkable evacuation plan in the re-licensing process is, in my opinion, criminal negligence.

    If you care about the health and safety of your family, please show up on the 14th.