New York With a petition filed this morning with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a coalition of environmental and civic groups and elected officials took the first concrete step toward closing Indian Points nuclear reactors. The petition calls on the NRC to order an immediate shutdown of the Indian Point facility and to keep it closed until a full review of the plants vulnerabilities and safety systems is conducted. Indian Points two functioning nuclear reactors are located on the Hudson River about 40 miles north of mid-town Manhattan.
Citing catastrophic risks to public health and safety and to the worlds financial center, the coalition stated that the events of September 11 clearly demonstrate that the plants status needs to be reexamined. While not calling for a permanent shutdown at this stage, the coalition argued that the enormous safety risks Indian Point poses to the region cannot be justified by the plants limited economic benefit namely providing a cheap source of power in the summer months when electricity demand is high. The coalition pointed out that with the summer behind us, this is a good opportunity to close down both Units 2 and 3 and take the necessary time to study the plants ability to operate safely.
The petitioners are asking the NRC to assess the vulnerability of Indian Point to terrorist attacks, review the adequacy of security systems and evacuation plans, and to make recommendations on how to minimize the facilitys risks to public safety. The petition further requests the NRC to order an immediate transfer of the plants highly radioactive spent fuel rods from a wet cooling pool system, where they are now, to a dry cask system, a technology that significantly increases the security of the spent fuel.
Alex Matthiessen, Executive Director of Riverkeeper, one of the groups leading the campaign, said, In light of the September 11th suicide bombing and Indian Points proximity to the countrys most densely populated metropolis, prudence dictates that the plant be shut down until Entergy demonstrates that it can protect the public from a terrorist attack. The plants vulnerability to a major terrorist attack has never been studied; yet we do know the risks are real and grave. Some 20 million Americans live within Indian Points 50-mile fall-out zone that could be irradiated following a meltdown or spent fuel fire. At the time Indian Point 2 was licensed in 1974, one of the Atomic Energy Commissions own officials said that siting a plant so close to New York was insane.
If the United Airlines jet that traveled down the Hudson Valley en route to the twin towers had instead banked a left turn into one of Indian Points twin reactors, the resulting disaster would have been even more horrific than the World Trade Center catastrophe, said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper. Given the southerly direction of prevailing winds in the Hudson Valley, a meltdown or major radioactive release at Indian Point could result in death and chronic radiation sickness for thousands if not tens of thousands of the regions citizens and render much of the New York metropolitan area permanently uninhabitable.
Paul Leventhal, President of the Nuclear Control Institute, stated that shutting down the reactors would reduce, though not substantially, the consequences of a radioactive release were terrorists to successfully penetrate the plants and destroy essential safety systems. However, after a shutdown of 20 days, he said, the number of prompt fatalities from a core meltdown and breach of containment could be reduced by 80% and the number of long-term cancer deaths by 50%, according to a preliminary analysis by Nuclear Control Institute. In addition, Mr. Leventhal pointed out that removing the fuel from the reactors something than can be done between six and eight days after shutdown will allow security forces to focus their protection on the spent-fuel pool where this highly radioactive fuel, as well as all fuel previously removed from the reactors, is stored. Taking the straightforward step of a temporary reactor shut-down to reduce the risks and consequences of a successful terrorist assault will help the 20 million people who live and work in the New York metropolitan area sleep a little easier, said NCIs Leventhal. It will also allow the plant operator and public officials at all levels to develop and to test defensive measures for the reactor and the spent-fuel pool that are sufficient to repel the new terrorist threat. That threat, made manifest on September 11, is at least 19 suicidal and sophisticated terrorists attacking from four different directions. Until Indian Point can be protected against that threat, it should not be allowed to operate. Unless Indian Point is shut down, there will not be the financial and political imperative to get the job done right.
Indian Points two reactors supply 1800 megawatts of power to New York City and Westchester County, enough to power 1.8 million homes. The Pace University Energy Project contends that because there are numerous sources of power around the region, removing Indian Point from the grid would not affect energy reliability, even in the peak summer months. As to the price of electricity, During the non-summer months of September through May, an absence of Indian Point power would have a negligible effect on the regions electricity prices, said Dick Ottinger, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Pace Energy Project. With the new circumstances we face, theres absolutely no justification for not shutting the reactors down, at least until next summer, and using the time to get a better handle on the risks.
The NRC has acknowledged that nuclear containment domes were not designed to withstand the crash of a large jet. But the containment domes are only one of several vulnerable targets that, if compromised, could cause a major radioactive release. Most of the radiation at Indian Point is stored in spent fuel pools designed as only a temporary repository for the nuclear waste. Spent fuel pools are particularly vulnerable because they lie outside the containment domes and tend to be poorly protected in butler buildings of cement or corrugated metal. The federal government was directed by Congress in 1982 to identify a centralized site to safely store the nations spent fuel, but has thus far failed to do so.
The human toll of a core meltdown or
spent fuel fire at Indian Point would be apocalyptic. The coalition believes
that a successful attack on the spent fuel pools could lead to a catastrophic
fire and a widespread release of radiation. Depending on the size of the fire
and wind direction, New York City could be cloaked in radioactive material.
The group also pointed to another 1982 NRC study on the economic impacts on Westchester County. According to the study, a meltdown at Indian Point 3 would result in a loss of $314 billion, in 1982 dollars, to Westchesters property and commercial interests. Adjusted for inflation and a quadrupling of real estate prices since 1982, the figure is probably closer to $2.3 trillion, in 2000 dollars. Including the effect on New York City and other surrounding counties would result in a figure in the tens of trillions of dollars in economic losses.
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