Testify against Indian Point

January 17, 2012

Peter Rugh reports on the protests at a hearing on the risky future of a nuclear plant.

DESPITE HEAVY rains and umbrella-twisting winds, about 40 people showed up outside a skyscraper across from City Hall in Manhattan on January 12 for a press conference and rally calling for the closure of the Indian Point nuclear plant. The event was held ahead of a hearing by the New York State Assembly's Energy and Corporations committees on energy alternatives to Indian Point.

About 8 percent of the entire U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the aging Indian Point plant, and community members have fought for decades to shut it down. They contend that it is unsafe to maintain a nuclear plant in such a close proximity to a major metropolitan area, as there would be no way of evacuating the millions who would be in harm's way should a meltdown occur.

Residents point out that thyroid cancer rates in Westchester County, where the plant is located, are more than 60 percent above the national average, that Indian Point kills millions of fish a year, and that the facility is located on two earthquake fault lines.

Protesters rally for the closure of Indian Point nuclear plant
Protesters rally for the closure of Indian Point nuclear plant

Here's what Robert Ryan had to say about Indian Point while he was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) director of state programs: "[I]t is insane to have three-unit reactor on the Hudson River...40 miles from Times Square--20 miles from the Bronx." Ryan spoke those words more than 20 years ago, and yet Indian Point remains open. In fact, the NRC has granted over 100 safety exemptions to Indian Point's operator, Entergy Corp., over the plant's 40-year lifespan.

Meanwhile, Entergy has tried to create fault lines of its own, stoking fears in the media about blackouts and pitting the unionized workforce at Indian Point against environmentalists.

Organizations fighting for Indian Point's closure counter that the 4-6 percent of New York City's electricity that Indian Point provides could easily be replaced by renewable sources. They also dismiss the idea that workers must choose between a healthy environment and gainful employment--and that the government should initiate a program to train workers in renewable energy.

Calls for Indian Point's closure have intensified with the nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima-Daiichi power plant. The crisis, which began last March after an earthquake and tsunami decimated Japan's northeastern coast, has not let up. Three meltdowns occurred at the plant, and radiation has spread far and wide. Hundreds of thousands of residents in the area surrounding the plant will likely never be able to return their homes, while many more people who ought to have been evacuated live in fear of the effects of radiation exposure.

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima-Daiichi--many people have begun to wonder how many disasters need to take place before governments move away from nuclear power.

THE BATTLE to shut down Indian Point is approaching a critical juncture. The plant's number one reactor is up for re-licensing from the NRC in 2013.

The stakes are high. Entergy execs are likely nervous that the state legislature is looking into other energy sources, a strong indication that elective representatives are finally thinking about alternatives to Indian Point. But if the reactor is re-licensed, that would allow it to operate 20 years beyond its intended lifespan.

As the time neared for the hearing to begin, the crowd swelled to over a hundred. A mix of corporate bureaucrat types with Entergy and the local energy monopoly Con Edison, and anti-nuclear activists lined up at the metal detectors. The meeting was standing room only.

Ahead of the hearing, activists with Shut Down Indian Point Now! and the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, groups that have been advocating on a grassroots level for the plant's closure, went through official channels in an attempt to get to speak. They were given the runaround by their official representatives and weren't invited to testify.

So who was invited? Con Edison, Entergy, and New York's Independent Systems Operator, an industry-funded group sanctioned by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that monitors wholesale electricity markets and energy supply.

During the hearing, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffe, who has 130,000 constituents within the 10-mile radiological evacuation zone surrounding Indian Point, questioned the representative of the Independent Systems Operator as to why alternative energy sources weren't being implemented throughout the city. The suits said "market and profitability factors" made renewable technologies unattractive to investors. But the only way Indian Point and most nuclear plants around the world are able to function is through massive government subsidies and underwriting of insurance costs.

These claims were backed up by Con Ed and Entergy. Yet there is no way for the committees or the public to verify the assertions of the power industry. "Interestingly," as the New York Times reported, "contractual electricity prices are kept secret by the generating companies and the utilities."

"Interesting"? Or just another way New Yorkers are kept in the dark as to how their bills for keeping the lights on are calculated?

The only witnesses called to testify who offered an alternative narrative to Entergy's Indian Point slogan "Safe. Secure. Vital." were researchers with Synapse Energy. Synapse laid out a blueprint for alternatives to the plant. In a study published last fall, its researchers found that there is actually a surplus of energy in the metropolitan area, and that the equivalent of two Indian Points could be generated through conservation, renewable sources, and updates to transmission lines.

The committees' proceedings were being conducted simultaneously with the temporary shutdown of Indian Point's number two reactor, due to a faulty water pump. Entergy watched the pump gradually overflow for about week, but when it started spewing radioactive water at 5 gallons per-minute, it was shut it down. As of this writing, the reactor remains offline.

The reactor's shutdown casts serious doubts on Entergy's claims about plant safety. The leaks indicate the plant won't remain fit for the 20-year extended lifespan that the corporation is seeking.

ONLY AFTER a short recess, as members of the committees had cozied back into their chairs, was some uninvited testimony delivered.

"Mic check" was the call from a young woman wearing a sash of yellow caution tape, bearing the word "occupy" in black letters. With that, Luna Scarano began reading a statement from Occupy Wall Street's Environmentalist Solidarity working group. Activists spread throughout the crowd, repeating each phrase after her"

Indian Point is old, dangerous and unnecessary, a Fukushima waiting to happen on the Hudson. In the event of a meltdown, there would be no way of evacuating the 20 million people who live within a 50-mile radius of the plant. We demand investment in renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and tidal power, energy that is omnipresent and can be harnessed with technology available now.

Kevin Cahill, the chair of the Energy committee, tried to shut up Scarano, but she was undeterred:

Entergy is recklessly endangering all of us, radiating the Hudson and killing millions of fish per year. For what? For providing a small fraction of New York City's electricity... We're the 99 percent. We demand that Indian Point be shut down now before there is a meltdown!"

Unfortunately, these comments weren't entered into the minutes of the hearing.

The ante has been upped in the fight for a nuke-free New York. Either Indian Point is not re-licensed and is decommissioned, or it becomes a Franken-reactor, existing for another 20 years beyond its expected life. The future depends on activists building a movement to pressure lawmakers and regulators to move away from nuclear power and towards sustainable energy.

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