Now Hear This
Con Edison recently produced a chart detailing the various sources of electricity in the Metropolitan area. In a given year, Indian Point produces an average of 33% of the area’s electrical energy.
The metropolitan area is made up of the five boroughs of NYC in addition to Westchester County.
River Journal had a chance to speak with Mike Slobodien, Entergy Corporation’s Director of Emergency Programs. Mike holds Bachelor’s and advanced Degrees in Chemistry and Radiation Health and is certified in the practice of Health Physics (radiation protection) by the American Board of Health Physics. He has over 35 years of professional experience working in the nuclear industry, academia and government. We will report his answers in a two-part series.
Q. An average of 33% is a major factor in the Metropolitan energy grid. Critics have asked that the Indian Point Plant be shut down immediately. What would such an action mean to New Yorkers?
A. According to the Independent System Operator (NY State’s oversight agency for electrical distribution) the chances of a major metropolitan area blackout would increase five- fold. Importing electricity from neighboring states is extraordinarily flawed as a stop-gap measure. New England, for example, would not be able to send electricity when we needed it since they are also in tight supply during hot months, and we already know the answer to depending on long-range supplies, as the 2003 regional blackout taught us. Most other systems are increasingly being asked to serve up to their capacity as electric requirements grow ever higher. We are already in need of many more power plants in the NY State system.
Indian Point is right now the least expensive source of electricity in the NYC and Westchester area. Currently, many area schools, municipal buildings and budgets depend on the known and relatively inexpensive costs from Indian Point’s electrical supply. To convert Indian Point to gas, as some have suggested, would be extremely difficult. First, Indian Point would have to be dismantled and a new plant would have to take its place. How long an interruption this would be is anybody’s guess. Second, even if such a conversion got past zoning and environmental regulations, such a conversion would have an enormous and costly impact on the area. A question could also be asked at this point as to whether a gas plant or even a coal plant at Indian Point would be any less of a terrorist target than the current buildings.
In making such a switch, not only would Entergy have to be reimbursed, but the taxpayer would have to contribute to new construction through rising electrical rates. We already have had a strong indication of how difficult the political waters are in this area when the large "Millenium" gas line being proposed for the mid- Westchester area was stopped recently by both negative public and official reaction.
Q. Indian Point has received much publicity as a terrorist target. What has been done at the facility since 9/11?
A. Indian Point, like all nuclear reactors in the U.S., was originally designed to protect public health and safety in the event of a serious accident emanating from within the facility. The facilities were designed to withstand events such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, power outages, mechanical equipment failure and human error. Design features including massive reinforced structures and redundant, physically separated power and safety systems, have been included in the infrastructure.
Following 9/11, additional protective measures were put into place. These include additional barriers to entry on the site, additional security forces using more sophisticated weapons, intrusion detectors, vehicle-stopping devices, armored security bunkers, increased security force training and testing, and improved communication equipment. The National Guard and NY Naval Militia maintain supplemental forces to aid in protecting site boundaries on both land and water. Agencies that are also involved in the emergency planning for Indian Point include the NRC, FBI, State Police and Dept. of Homeland Security.
Q. What is the situation with a "no fly" zone?
A. Here is an almost totally misunderstood concept. The idea that airplanes can’t fly over or near Indian Point would ground almost all air traffic in the N.Y. metropolitan area. LaGuardia, Westchester, Kennedy and Newark are major air centers along with a number of smaller airports in the area. Nevertheless, the responsibility for monitoring area air traffic is handled by NORAD (North American Air Defense) with various flight plans being logged with the FAA. Both groups are continuously checking for deviations in air patterns, and major changes have been made since 9/11 in cockpit security and safety checks for various flights.
Q. What is the siren problem situation. Isn’t Indian Point developing a new type of warning system? What is the latest with reported leaks?
A. Indian Point is currently installing a new siren system throughout the 10-mile emergency planning zone around the facility. This system will have back-up power capabilities as required in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Perhaps even more critical, we have also been working with the State and the various counties to provide a brand new emergency technology called Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) to the surrounding communities. This system notifies the public through a variety of devices including land-line phones, cell phones,
e-mail, pagers, PDA’s plus radio and television. Unlike the sirens, which are strictly limited to Indian Point events, the CAP system is capable of being used for any event in the counties and its use obviously extends beyond the 10-mile emergency planning zone.
With regard to the current discovery of "leaks" at Indian Point, the NRC and other proper authorities are well aware of the leaks reported. They were discovered in the process of getting ready for a heavy crane that will move Entergy’s brand new spent fuel "dry casks" into position. Construction digging found a hairline crack in an adjacent pool. In testing that area further, a leak was found and measured. While some of this pre-dates Entergy’s ownership of the facility, the leak was well within acceptable regulatory limits and the source continues to be tracked. Remediation is underway.
Q. Please explain what the Witt report indicated, and is it correct that you are now re-examining this report?
A. The report produced by James Lee Witt in 2003 offered analyses and suggestions for emergency preparedness involving Entergy, local communities and the Federal government. The report, however, also had deficiencies in understanding nuclear plant technology. Nevertheless, we believe that the report had some useful recommendations in the areas of communications and public education. Based on those (and other) recommendations, Entergy has helped the County make significant improvements in their emergency response plan. We continually revisit the report to see how well Entergy’s actions measure up to Witt’s suggestions. However, much of today’s technology has already moved to more sophisticated levels than that reported by Witt in 2003.
Even before the Witt report, Entergy was already involved in funding and improving regional emergency responsibilities. We installed new, high speed communications equipment that interconnects the Indian Point Energy Center with response facilities in the State Emergency Management Offices as well as the various county offices that surround Indian Point. Similarly, Entergy helped design and fund a new state-of-the-art response facility at the Hudson Valley Transportation Management Center in Hawthorne N.Y., also in conjunction with the State.
End of Part One