The New York Times The New York Times New York Region March 8, 2003  

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Pressure Mounts for Pataki to Deal With Indian Point

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD

With a state consultant standing by his conclusion that evacuation plans for the Indian Point nuclear power plant are inadequate, opponents of the plant said yesterday that they planned to turn up pressure on Gov. George E. Pataki to take a position.

It was Mr. Pataki, facing mounting criticism of the plant during a re-election campaign last summer, who hired the consultant, James Lee Witt, a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At that time, Mr. Pataki said he would not wait for the federal government to act, and would hire Mr. Witt to help improve emergency planning.

But yesterday, with the release of the final version of Mr. Witt's report, calls to Mr. Pataki were transferred to the state's Office of Emergency Management, where a spokesman would not comment, saying the report was under review.

The report faults the emergency plan for failing to consider factors including: roads clogged by panicked residents; uncertainties about how emergency workers would react in a terrorist attack; and difficulties predicting the direction and intensity of radiation plumes and conveying that information to the public.

Although it is the federal government — specifically, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — that has the authority to close the plant, opponents said they believed a plea from the governor would hardly be ignored.

"In my mind and the public's mind, Governor Pataki has run out of excuses to continue ducking the Indian Point issue," said Alex Matthiessen, executive director of Riverkeeper, an environmental group opposed to the plant that soon plans to begin an advertising campaign against it. "He promised New Yorkers he would stand by the Witt report's findings and conclusions. Witt's findings are clear. The evacuation plans are inadequate and the plan is unfixable given the new threats we face."

Mr. Matthiessen declined to elaborate on the planned advertising campaign. Mr. Pataki announced the hiring of Mr. Witt after a Riverkeeper advertising campaign against the plant last summer, and after a Democratic opponent began making Indian Point a campaign issue.

At that Aug. 1 news conference, when he was asked if he would consider calling for the plant's closing if Mr. Witt's review found the plans seriously lacking, the governor answered, "We rule out no option."

When deciding what course to take, he said, "We will base our decision on that report."

The governor added: "It is clear that we must move forward on our own to ensure our residents are protected. Safety must be our top priority, and we cannot wait for the federal government to act."

After Mr. Witt released his first draft in January, raising concerns about the evacuation plan, Mr. Pataki reiterated his belief that the federal government should review emergency planning standards, though he did not comment directly on his consultant's findings.

Even some community members and commentators who want to see the plant remain open are growing impatient with the governor. The normally friendly editorial page of The New York Post, which has ridiculed opponents of Indian Point, criticized the governor yesterday for not supporting the plant. "It's time for Governor Pataki to get off the fence and stand up for the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester," the editorial said, going on to accuse the governor of a "cop-out."

Members of Congress, meanwhile, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Representative Eliot Engel, reacted to the final report by renewing calls for the federal government to shut the plant.

But spokesmen for FEMA and the N.R.C. declined to comment on the report, saying officials had not yet read it.

Entergy Corporation, which owns the plant, said Mr. Witt had raised important concerns, but the company seized on his assertion that the emergency plan, for all its faults, does meet current federal requirements. And a spokesman said it was time to move past the report.

"He came in," James Steets, a spokesman for Entergy, said of Mr. Witt, "and he is gone now."





Our Towns; At Indian Pt., Watchdogs Sit on Fence  (February 26, 2003)  $

Albany Says It Can't Certify Indian Pt. Plan  (January 31, 2003)  $

Closed or Not, Indian Point And Its Perils Won't Vanish  (January 28, 2003)  $

Move to Close Indian Point Gathers Steam After Report  (January 15, 2003)  $

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