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Emergency plan for N.Y. nuclear station clears hurdle

By Devlin Barrett, Associated Press, 7/26/2003

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials signed off yesterday on emergency plans for the area around the Indian Point nuclear power station, effectively overriding opposition from local officials who thought evacuation procedures wouldn't protect residents from radiation in a terrorist attack.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent a letter to New York's governor, George Pataki, late yesterday outlining their ''determination of reasonable assurance'' that current evacuation plans are adequate, and insisting they will take further steps to make the site even safer.

''Emergency planning for Indian Point is an ongoing, cyclical process,'' FEMA preparedness director David Paulison wrote in the letter, adding the agency ''is prepared to make the region a model of preparedness for the nation.''

The decision caps months of standoffs and negotiations among local, state, and federal authorities over terrorism concerns surrounding the plant in Buchanan, N.Y., 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan. Soon after the letter was sent, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released a statement agreeing that the facility's emergency plan is ''satisfactory.''

Since the attacks, dozens of municipalities and more than 200 elected officials in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey have endorsed efforts to close Indian Point.

Speaking at an unrelated event in Peekskill yesterday, Pataki said that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, federal officials ''have to rethink everything they've been doing. That's one of the reasons I wouldn't certify the evacuation plan.''

The four counties closest to Indian Point -- Westchester, Rockland, Orange, and Putnam -- have offered differing levels of cooperation with the federal recertification process, and refused to provide formal letters acknowledging their safety preparations. The state followed suit.

Westchester has gone further, refusing to provide detailed emergency plan updates.

County executive Andrew Spano said yesterday the plan ''does not work in any way, shape, or form in a fast-moving scenario.''

FEMA said in the letter that it can still provide reasonable assurance without the paperwork because the counties have conducted thorough on-the-ground preparation and drills, and because a 2002 emergency drill by FEMA was successful, ''with no deficiencies in the offsite emergency protective measures used.''

The agency will also conduct a drill in the middle of next year to test an attack on the site with a weapon of mass destruction. Local elected officials, highly critical of FEMA's work on Indian Point, quickly pounced on the agency's findings.

''It is inconceivable how federal officials can sign off on it,'' said Representative Sue Kelly, Republican of New York, whose district includes Indian Point. ''I think they were determined to ram this through at any cost.''

Earlier this year, FEMA officials had warned that without proper submissions from local authorities, they might have to notify the NRC they could not give ''reasonable assurance'' existing emergency plans adequately protect residents. That move could have led to the plant's closure.

This story ran on page A2 of the Boston Globe on 7/26/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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