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Experts Divided Over Safety of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

Critics of Indian Point say the NYC suburbs are no place for a nuclear plant, while advocates insist the facility is safe, despite having some seismic risk

By Alice Kenny, SolveClimate News

May 2, 2011

New York City, the nation's most densely populated county, stands just 24 miles downwind from the Indian Point nuclear power plant, making it the closest and largest city to an atomic facility in the United States. 

Now the plant has brought another unwanted distinction to the area. A recent MSNBC investigation based on Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) figures reveals that among the country's 104 nuclear power plants, Indian Point carries the greatest risk of reactor core damage from an earthquake.

NRC maintains that Indian Point and all U.S. nuclear plants were designed to absorb increased risk. "All plants continue to meet their seismic requirements and continue to operate safely," NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell told SolveClimate News.

But in the wake of the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station, some New York politicians and environmentalists are demanding a fresh cost-benefit analysis of Indian Point and the carbon-free power it provides. Leading the charge are New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner, whose town sits midway between Indian Point and New York City, and the Ossining, N.Y.-based environmental group Riverkeeper.

Could a disaster similar to the one still unfolding in Japan happen here? the critics ask. Is nuclear power's zero-emissions electricity worth the risk?

Deep Pockets and Close Calls

Indian Point, owned by New Orleans, La.-based Entergy Corporation, has been plagued by a laundry list of safety violations and close calls.

Last year, 600,000 gallons of boiling radioactive water escaped as steam through an open valve. In a separate incident an electric transformer exploded. The reactor's cooling system has pushed nearby water temperatures up 15 degrees in the surrounding Hudson River on several occasions, causing massive fish kills.  And back on 9/11, terrorists flew a fueled jet right by the nuclear plant as they followed the Hudson River to the World Trade Center. 

Despite its problems, the importance of Indian Point is hard to dispute.

It provides up to 30 percent of New York City's and adjoining Westchester County's energy needs.  That is enough, energy experts say, to power 2 million residences, Metro North commuter trains and the New York City subway system.  And it does this without burning the fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.  

"From an energy planning perspective we do need Indian Point," said James M. Van Nostrand, executive director of Pace Energy and Climate Center from his office in White Plains, N.Y., a 20-minute drive from the power plant. And from a carbon-avoidance perspective, he added, "other solutions would not be as clean."

Relicensing Blues

But the Japanese disaster places the plant under intense scrutiny and at its most vulnerable time.

The 40-year licenses for its two active reactors, units 2 and 3, are scheduled to expire in 2013 and 2015. To continue operating, they must be renewed.

Entergy had hoped for a fairly pain-free renewal process. And before Japan's recent nuclear disaster, it looked like it would get one. Just this past December, NRC announced a preliminary decision that the plant's environmental impact is not great enough to prevent it from getting relicensed for another 20 years.

But now the nuclear plant faces its own perfect storm. 

Gov. Cuomo, elected to office in January, pledged to close the plant. Entergy Corporation stocks dropped from nearly $74 per share before the disaster to $69 today.  And many residents are protesting that the New York City suburbs are no place for a nuclear power plant.

Far Less Seismically Active

Tired tactics

Utter rubbish. This "article" reads like a propaganda pamphlet from Riverkeeper, Inc.

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