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The Future of Indian Point

Friday, June 03, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Last night a hearing was held to discuss the future of Indian Point. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC reporter Bob Hennelly, discussed what's in store for the power plant, located 40 miles from New York City.

Regulator and regulated: nuclear bedfellows?

Opposition is mounting to federal relicensing of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. With more and more New York politicians coming out of the woodwork, and debate far from dead in the public square, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a hearing last night about the plant's 2010 safety review.

WNYC's Bob Hennelly said there was a range of opinions expressed, but the overall mood was of a very particular stripe—not least because concerns are fresh after the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, and how it happened despite regulation.

The meeting was dominated by people who really feel Indian Point should never have opened. And what happened in Fukushima—this is where the New York Times has done a great job really calling into question over there the relationship between industry and regulator. There's a lot of questions by people like Congressman [Edward] Markey saying really, we're not so dissimilar; there's a sense that the NRC and the atomic industry are very much linked. How else to explain the perfect batting record when it comes to these relicensing extensions?

Passing the energy buck

Earlier in the day, Hennelly had been at a press conference regarding "Coptergate," a mini-scandal surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his using a helicopter to get to his son's little league baseball game. He told Jami Floyd that when he got to the Indian Point hearing, he estimated that the media presence was a paltry 10 percent of what it had been at the Christie conference. The U.S. media may have been distracted, but the Japanese ended up covering an event that went largely unreported by domestic outlets.

Whether or not you're for or against Indian Point, we're at a major crossroads in this country about energy, and I think it says something about the media that Japanese national television was there, and we had such a lack of showing from the mainstream media.

The problems are there, we're just not talking about them or thinking about them as much as we should be, Hennelly said. As our energy demands grow and change, time may be running out before we're forced to deal with our problems in painful ways.

We've let the licensing law lapse and we have this architecture for a 21st century circumstance where we're dependent more and more upon electricity, what with cell phones and computers. We have not invested in that. We've not had a collective buy-in about what we're going to do about energy. We're dealing with a legacy of conflict-avoiding.

Seismic review

One of the problems with gauging the effectiveness of regulation is that technology is so complicated and shrouded. Hennelly said that because nuclear operations are, for the most part, kept out of the public focus, many of the reforms and improvements touted by regulatory agencies can only be taken at face value. Are we actually safer? Hard to tell.

The NRC basically says, we've upgraded, and you have to take their word for it that they've put in place overlaying security that would prevent something from happening.

The Fukushima disaster reignited interest in New York's plate tectonics; earthquakes in the region are highly unlikely, but what if? Hennelly said that while most experts have dismissed the likelihood of a significant seismic disaster, there's no reason to rely on old science. Things change.

When you have a technology with such high stakes, if something goes wrong, you have to continue to have it informed by new science. I'm not a seismologist, I don't even play one on the radio, but clearly qualified people got the ear of Governor Cuomo and he set into motion an expedited seismic review.

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Comments [9]

Arnold from New York City

Bob from Pelham makes an interesting point. Who will take care of the accumulated spent fuel on the Indian Point site. But it only can get WORSE if the plant is allowed to generate more highly radioactive waste that remains radioactive for thousands of years.Dry cask storage can be expedited, When nuclear plants are decommissioned and are no longer generating more toxic waste that nobody has been able to dispose of safely, they will be at least slightly safer than if allowed to continue operating. Our federal legislators ought to now start imposing a surcharge on those remaining nuclear power plants to create a fund to pay for the oversight that will be needed to seal and watch over the abandoned spent fuel located in plants all over the country.
This additional cost is another of the hidden subsidies US taxpayers have given the nuclear industry in a failed attempt to generate "some benefit" from a technological investment in the destructive technology of nuclear weapons. It was a Fedreal priority and should now become a federal responsibility. But since even the Fedreal Government has limited resources. The nuclear industry should be expected to shoulder more of the actual costs winding down our ill fated bargain that imposes longer ternm costs than human institutions have ever dealt with before.

Jun. 04 2011 02:41 PM
Dr. kathleen O'C. Hoekstra from Putnam Valley, NY

The cozy relationship between the NRC and Nuclear Energy was made embarrassingly obvious by the bobbing and weaving non-answer answers from NRC reps to legitimate, focused questions, such as:
Why aren't you subjecting Indian Point to the same updated stringent licensure criteria which you apply to new plants? Why are there at least 100 exemptions granted to Indian Point, in spite of the fact that they have been cited to lack required and necessary fire controls? Why has there been no sanction to require Indian Point to install a system to allow water expelled into OUR river to be cooled--to not continuing to destroy animal and plant life in the river with heated water? Why is the evacuation area limited to 10 miles from the plant when it's clear now from past meltdowns, e.g., Three Mile Island, Fukishiama, that the impacted area is at least 5 times that distance? Why isn't the new evidence of a second fault in the area been taken into consideration when determining the plant's susceptibility to earthquakes now projected to be in excess of 7 on the Richter Scale? Why has NRC NEVER denied a license to a proposed plant? Why, when Plant #3 was closed for a couple of years, did we not experience ANY loss of power in the area?

I am not a Con Ed customer, so why do I have to carry the risk connected with this outdated plant/technology? I live on a major so-called evacuation route which our own County government has referred to the road as a "meandering cowpath" in its efforts to deface and widen it. Is their plan to widen it part of the effort to bolster Entergy's false claim that there IS an evacuation route worthy of the name?

To expect last night's audience which was being treated with such disdain to sit silently in their seats would itself be disdain. Speakers and hecklers appropriately stopped the Entergy flunkies at every turn with facts and figures. Yet the NRC master of ceremonies tried his best to characterize the protestors as "emotional". Any reasonable observer would have to acknowledge that, given the anger and frustration stoked by the NRC's disdain, the level of audience reaction was amazingly controlled each time the NRC government/industry flunkies sounded like telephone recordings from defunct boiler room scams , "Your call is important to us...Please stay on the line..."

It's now clear that,because we have slid so far from being a government of, by and for the people, the United States is poised to make another tragic error--just as it did in its shortsighted policy of shipping jobs abroad. By backing nuclear energy while more democratically advanced nations, e.g. Germany and Switzerland have decided to abandon this deadly dinosaur, our government is again missing the boat--or simply cannot now turn the military-industrial juggernaut around. Anyone who still doubts this wasn't at last night's meeting.

Jun. 04 2011 01:40 PM
mannajo from Rosendale NY

One of dozens of reason to close Indian Point is that keeping it open creates more highly radioactive fuel waste that is either stored in overcrowded fuel pools or dry cask storage on site.
Also support is needed for NYS Assemblyman Jim Brennan bill calling for transparency by Entergy and all utilities to open their books -- as required before deregulation exempted.
Clearwater has filed a petition with 45 other organizations calling for the suspension of all licensing and relicensing until lessons learned from Fukushima can be incorporated into Atomic Energy Act and licensing regulations.

Jun. 04 2011 12:07 PM
Steve from Cold Spring

The big story that the press has been unable or unwilling to cover is Entergy's totally false claim that they provide up to 30% of NYC & Westchester's power. ConEd and NYPA public contracts clearly show it only amounts to 5%. Since ConEd and NYPA distribute all of the power to NYC & Westchester, this is definitive.

Of the 2100 MW that Indian Point generates, 1540 MW are sold on the national grid, and 560 MW is purchased for local use by ConEd and NYPA. That represents only 5% of NYC & Westchester's power consumption of 10,000-12,000 MW.

Journalists, do your homework and check the contracts instead of inadvertently spreading misinformation by simply repeating the PR of self-interested, non-objective sources.

Of course it is crucial for Indian Point's owners to inflate how vital the plant is, or it might be closed down. Unfortunately, the press has been duped into repeating this lie so many times that no one seems to even question it. Sad.

More info at NuclearSafetyNow.com

Jun. 03 2011 01:17 PM

Thank you caller! You are 100% correct.

Jun. 03 2011 10:42 AM
Chris from Putnam County

Please check on the figures on percentage of energy supplied to NYC and locally. Indian Point power is now sold on the open market to the power grid. As little as 5% is sold to New York City and locally.

Jun. 03 2011 10:41 AM
Bob from Pelham, NY

The major problem in Japan was the exposure of the spent fuel rods. These radioactive rods will remain at Indian Point whether or not the plant continues to operate. If the plan shuts down, who will pay for the maintenance of the safety pools?
Can we rely on the state legislature to provide adequate funding?

Jun. 03 2011 10:36 AM

The people of the NRC are _people_ ... yes. But the NRC has proven consistently for years that has been totally captured by the nuclear industry. The NRC just doesn't say no to industry.

Jun. 03 2011 10:31 AM
Patrick from Bronx

Concern with Indian Point peaked with the incidents of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukishima over the course of atomic world history. Is concern with Indian Point merely a temporary reaction to world events, or is there anything of substance to support a heightened level of concern regardless of incidents elsewhere?

Jun. 03 2011 05:12 AM

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