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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(September 12, 2003) Earlier this summer, Riverkeeper launched the third phase of an ongoing advertising campaign focused on the U.S. Indian Point NPP, situated just 22 miles (35 kilometers) from the Bronx and 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of midtown-Manhattan, New York. Designed to inform New York City residents about the danger of having a nuclear plant so close to the City, the campaign made use of persuasive radio, television and newspaper ads equating Indian Point's reactors with "weapons of mass destruction."

(592.5540) Riverkeeper - Judging by the sharp increase in the number of hits on our website - 4,000 more hits per day - the local and national press coverage the ads received and the buzz heard on the streets of New York City, the ads succeeded in making Indian Point a household word for City residents.

Not surprisingly, the only ones not listening to the message were the bureaucrats at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who ruled in late July that the people living near Indian Point could be safely evacuated and sheltered in an emergency. FEMA's blatant dismissal of the emergency plan's fatal flaws - identified in exhaustive detail by James Lee Witt, the country's leading emergency planning expert and corroborated by emergency workers, local residents and more than 310 elected officials - is breathtakingly contemptuous.

The good news is that the move, quickly endorsed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), was so outrageous that a number of elected officials - including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (Democrats) and Republican Sue Kelly - immediately called for congressional hearings. The hearings, expected in the fall, should compel FEMA and the NRC to go back and take a new look - this time with the assistance of an independent review panel.

We never expected due diligence from FEMA or the NRC. We've always understood that science and politics will ultimately bring about Indian Point's closure. FEMA's dereliction of duty can't change the fundamental facts underlying the monumental security, emergency preparedness and safety problems at Indian Point.

Given the Indian Point nuclear power plant's vicinity to the New York City metropolitan area, a catastrophic release of radiation could devastate the economy and endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. A major release could contaminate an area equivalent to three-fourths the size of New York State. Of the nation's 65 commercial nuclear reactor sites, Indian Point has the greatest density of people living and working within a 50-mile radius - approximately 20 million people living in 26 counties, including several in the Hudson Valley.

Noting the absurdity of Indian Point's vicinity to a major metropolitan area, Robert Ryan of the NRC, stated back in 1979: "I think it is insane to have a three-unit reactor on the Hudson River in Westchester County, 40 miles from Time Square, 20 miles from the Bronx… It's a nightmare from the point of view of emergency preparedness."

It's no secret that the nation's nuclear power plants are high on the terrorists' list of targets. This fact has been broadcast widely by President Bush in his 2002 State-of-the-Union address, cabinet officials in the Bush Administration, U.S. intelligence agencies, government associations, scientific research institutions, and the terrorists themselves. With the New York City metropolitan area still in the terrorist crosshairs for future terrorist attacks, Indian Point presents a proximate, vulnerable target that poses a significant threat to public health and safety and the region's economy.

The effort to permanently close and decommission the nuclear power facility at Indian Point is based upon reports issued by federal agencies, academic institutions, policy think-tanks, health associations and media. Unfortunately, officials at Entergy and the U.S. NRC continue to deny the findings of these reports which address Indian Point'{C}

s true vulnerability and the potential for catastrophic economic and health impacts. The public has a right to know this information, as well as the fact that Entergy and the NRC are not taking the appropriate steps to bolster plant security and have turned their back on these reports: According to a September 2002 report from the National Governor's Association, "a terrorist attack on a nuclear facility should be viewed like a terrorist attack using a dirty bomb [a weapon of mass destruction], but possibly more catastrophic due to the volume of nuclear material available for dispersion." The NGA report goes on to state: "Like a dirty bomb-but on a much larger scale-an attack on a nuclear facility would have long-term economic and psychological consequences. Large sections of land surrounding the facility would need to be evacuated, secured, and decontaminated. Such areas may not be inhabitable for a generation or more. Chernobyl caused the closure and evacuation of much of the nearby area, as the contamination from the decaying radioactive sources was deemed too great a risk for humans." The National Research Council, in a July 2002 report, states that the threat risk to nuclear power plants is high with potential consequences "ranging from reactor shutdowns to core meltdowns with very large releases of radioactivity." The report goes on to say: "Nuclear power plants may present a tempting high-visibility target for terrorist attack, and the potential for a September 11-type surprise attack in the near term … appears to be high. Such attacks could potentially have severe consequences if the attack were large enough." Additionally, the National Research Council, the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, cautions: "Complete denial of the means to attack [nuclear power plants] from the air or ground using U.S. assets such as aircraft is probably not feasible….Given the public fear of anything 'nuclear' or 'radioactive,' even a minor terrorist attack could have greatly magnified psychological and economic consequences." The American Thyroid Association recommends the pre-distribution of potassium iodide tablets to people within a 50-mile radius of a nuclear plant and as far away as 200 miles. If a radioactive plume from Indian Point were to only affect a small area, as the Entergy corporation claims, than why does the ATA clearly state on their website "No one can predict how far a radioactive iodine cloud might spread." Children, young adults, and pregnant women are most vulnerable to radioactive iodine exposure. A 1987 NRC study has concluded that a generic estimate of the release fraction of cesium isotopes during an irradiated ("spent") fuel pool fire -- that is, the fraction of the pool's inventory of cesium isotopes that would reach the atmosphere -- is 100 percent. The inventory of cesium-137 in a nuclear facility is a useful indicator of the potential, long-term consequences of a release of radioactive material from that facility. A spent fuel fire disaster at Unit 2, for instance, could release up to 42 million Curies of cesium-137 (based on November 1998 inventories). Additional amounts of cesium-137 would be present in any fuel assemblies that have been added to these pools since November 1998. For comparison, the Chernobyl reactor accident of 1986 released about 2.4 million Curies of cesium-137 to the atmosphere. A 1997 Brookhaven National Lab Report prepared for the U.S. NRC, claims that a disaster involving a spent fuel pool fire could cause up to 143,000 cancer deaths, as much as US$566 billion in economic damages, and could make an area up to 2,790 square miles around the plant uninhabitable.

The mainstream effort to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant continues to grow. To date, over 310 elected officials - including U.S. Representatives Nita Lowey, Sue Kelly, Maurice Hinchey, Eliot Engel and 7 other members of Congress - and 45 municipalities in NY, NJ, and CT are now calling for the shutdown of the Westchester-based plant. In early May, several major investment fund managers added their voice to the diverse group calling for the plant's shutdown.

The costs, risks, and consequences far outweigh the replaceable benefits provided by Indian Point. And with an unworkable and irreparable evacuation plan and chronic security and safety lapses, our government officials are left with no choice but to close Indian Point, thereby protecting one of the nation's most vital economic, cultural, and ecological regions.

Source and contact: Kyle Rabin, Policy Analyst, Riverkeeper, Inc. 25 Wing & Wing, Garrison, NY 10524-0130, U.S.
Tel: +1 845 424 4149 ext. 239
Fax: +1 845 424 4150



Riverkeeper, author of this article, is member of a broad coalition of more than 60 civic, environmental, health and public policy organizations, which is called the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC). It was formed shortly after the 11 September 2001 terrorist events in concern about the safety of Indian Point NPP.

Most recently, IPSEC brought a large delegation to Earth Day Lobby Day in Albany, NY; launched a massive post card campaign to Governor Pataki; distributed our award-winning documentary, Nowhere to Run, to libraries and elected officials; coordinated volunteers in New York City and the Hudson Valley to table at summer festivals; and, has become the voice of concerned citizens on radio, television, and in newspapers via our aggressive media campaign.



The advertising campaign of Riverkeeper has been successful. A newspaper ad carried the message "What exactly do weapons of mass destruction look like?" above a picture of the Indian Point NPP. Ads were also used in bus shelters to reach many people on the streets. The message is clear: terrorists could use Indian Point as a target, turning it into a weapon of mass destruction.

Riverkeeper is further planning a postcard campaign. The postcards, which will be dropped off in bars and restaurants, have to be sent to decision makers at the Entergy company, the NRC and the Department for Homeland Security.

The advertising materials can be viewed at the website of Riverkeeper (
Nucleonics Week, 3 July 2003



Riverkeeper and the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists petitioned the NRC to order the immediate shut down of Indian Point and vital repairs be made. Recent studies by the Los Alamos National Laboratory have concluded that the chances of a reactor meltdown increase by nearly a factor of 100 at Indian Point because the plant drainage pits (also known as containment sumps) are "almost certain" to be blocked with debris during an accident.

In an accident at a nuclear plant, water and steam rushing out from a broken pipe can blow insulation and coatings off of equipment. The water can carry this debris to the containment sump and clog the mesh screens that cover the sumps. When this happens, the emergency pumps cannot get the water from the sump needed for sustained cooling of the reactor core. It becomes only a matter of time before the reactor core overheats and releases a radioactive cloud to threaten people downwind of the plant.

The NRC has known the problem at Indian Point since 1996 and classified it as a serious problem, but currently plans to fix it only by 2007. Los Alamos has studied the situation at 69 pressurized water reactors and found that for some, the risk of core damage was multiplied 100 times because of the debris problem. The Indian Point reactors were both in the worst five.

After reviewing the petition, the NRC will take one of three actions: order the immediate shut down of Indian Point; order repairs at the next refueling; or deny the petition.
New York Times, 7 September 2003; press release Riverkeeper/UCS, 8 September 2003