In a letter to the press, inviting journalists to attend a public meeting on April ll at the Greenburgh Town Hall, Supervisor Paul Feiner provided several major reasons why the recent Japanese tsunami disaster should now prompt a shutdown of the nuclear reactors in Buchanan, NY. Feiner states in his letter that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has declared that of all 104 reactors in the nation, Indian Point has the “highest risk of catastrophic failure due to an earthquake.” Feiner’s second point in his announcement letter is that there are currently no plans for a “50-mile evacuation zone.” Finally, he includes a third major point that the “560 megawatts contracted to Con Ed and NYPA” amounts to “6.2% in the winter and 4.3 % of total production.” Feiner concludes that on the basis of his arithmetic “our region could live without Indian Point.”
In a phone call to Neil Sheehan of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Mr.Sheehan was emphatic in pointing out that the NRC “made no such evaluation of Indian Point as it relates to earthquakes.” He stated further that MSNBC first came up with the thought and it was then ascribed to the NRC. Sheehan also pointed out that Federal Government nuclear officials do not feel an actual safety need to exceed the current 10-mile radius that Indian Point now observes. A 50-mile radius in the US has not been proposed but they indicate that this is something that might be considered should the industry require it.
Further, the implication used by critics, that evacuation procedures are the sole responsibility of Entergy is also incorrect. Westchester County also has a responsibility to evaluate and implement the 10-mile safety plan in conjunction with the nuclear facility, all with FEMA’s and the NRC’s oversight and approval.
When it comes to Feiner’s percentages of electric supply generated by Indian Point, they are also labeled as incorrect. Mr. Paul Steidler of NY AREA, a major trade group consisting of electric energy users within the State, pointed out that Indian Point’s electricity output (at 2100 megawatts on a daily average) is sold to a “grid” system which includes the numbers Feiner uses. The “grid” total is made up of all forms of electricity purchases by various suppliers throughout the NYC locale; in fact, Con Edison and New York Independent Systems Operator estimate that on a yearly average, 25% of New York City’s and Westchester’s electricity is actually being supplied by Indian Point. The percentage is higher in the summer and lower in the winter. Finally, according to Entergy, all of the power produced at Indian Point goes directly to New York City and Westchester County.
To replace Indian Point’s output locally, which Feiner presumably would want to do, would take four or five natural gas facilities.
To date, according to Steidler, there has been no siting law put in place by either Albany or Westchester County to handle such a switchover, nor has any geographic area yet been designated for such a replacement.
During the evening meeting on April 11, it became apparent that no one in the room of perhaps 100 people was going to say anything positive about Indian Point. It was plainly a gathering of anti-nuclear personnel and citizenry. And they basically took a directly opposite position from those who favor Indian Point’s re-licensing. What was missing was a debate on the accuracy of the points each speaker was making.
Mr. Feiner, like many other local politicians, obviously feels the need to lead his constituents to replace Indian Point. One can only wonder how those in favor of nuclear energy in Feiner’s district feel about their Supervisor being so deeply involved in the politics of a shutdown. There should be no question that the Japanese problems can provide a valuable reference point for earthquakes that are above 9.0 in a given area. Similarly, studying the event can lead to other conclusions, both positive and negative. Unfortunately, we seem to have arrived at a point, particularly as portrayed in the press and various cable newscasts, where we’ve almost ignored the thousands of people who have been killed by a natural disaster and yet, to date, none have been killed in the nuclear portion of that disaster.
Moving Indian Point or replacing it is a costly, complicated move, not only to consider, but also to accomplish. Shutting Indian Point down is an issue that requires careful thinking and transparency. Sooner or later we are going to be forced to make serious decisions about the future of nuclear energy regardless of where it is located in the country.