by Richard Ottinger
The recent nuclear catastrophe in Japan has focused intense (and well-deserved) scrutiny on the radioactive gorilla in our own backyard, the “safe/secure/vital” (as described by operator Entergy) Indian Point (nuclear) Energy Center in Buchanan, New York. More than 17 million people live within 50 miles of this plant. The greatest vulnerability of Entergy’s Indian Point, from the standpoint of many experts and environmental activists, is the way in which the spent fuel pools are essentially unprotected on the property. Just like in Japan, these pools are housed outside the containment vessel, and since at least 2005 have been leaking radioactive toxins. Equally alarming is the fact that the control center that would allow critical personnel to shut down the plant in the case of an emergency or terrorist attack also is located outside the containment vessel.Under these conditions, if the 9/11 hijackers had targeted and hit Indian Point instead of the World Trade Center, there would have been hundreds of thousands of deaths if the winds were blowing toward Manhattan, which sits only 35 miles from the plant. And evacuation plans for Indian Point are entirely ludicrous – while the US embassy advised its citizens near Fukushima to evacuate a radius of 50 miles, the current Indian Point plan only covers a 10 mile radius! Such a clearly inadequate evacuation plan sets the groundwork for a disaster of truly epic proportions and untold death, destruction, and misery. Given the very real danger posed by terrorists – especially in an age where sophisticated weaponry (think handheld rocket launchers) is relatively easy to obtain – the security at both the pools and at the unguarded Hudson River access to the site is woefully and frighteningly inadequate. Couple these risks with the fact that Indian Point sits atop the intersection of two active seismic zones, and our own Fukushima nightmare seems uncomfortably within the realm of possibility.
Unfortunately, risks such as these are not limited to Indian Point, and virtually all of America’s nuclear reactors have the same inadequate emergency control protocols and safety mechanisms in place – backups that showed their flaws at the worst possible moment in Japan. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has known about these unreasonable risks for decades yet has consciously refused to take them into account in regulatory decisions. One would hope that in moving forward, relicensing plants situated in seismically-active areas would be strictly forbidden, and that (as many have already proposed, including NY’s Attorney General), that “earthquake resistance” will be formally incorporated into relicensing determinations.