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Trying to Add Light to the Heat on Indian Point


OSSINING, N.Y. -- THERE are times, Sandy Galef tells her constituents, when "one issue overrides all others," and since Sept. 11, the Indian Point nuclear power complex is that issue in the 90th Assembly District in the northwest corner of Westchester County.

So Assemblywoman Galef has cast herself as head science teacher for the 130,000 residents of Peekskill, Cortlandt, Yorktown, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining and Buchanan, where the plant looms on the banks of the Hudson River.


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Topics related to Indian Point occupy her entire newsletter. Experts in nuclear energy fill all the guest slots on her monthly cable television show. The trunk of her car is full of pie charts of New York State's energy sources.

Ms. Galef, an assemblywoman here since 1992, spends most of her spare time at Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings; on fact-finding visits to other nuclear power plants; and on dunning experts for facts, figures and opinions on alternative energy sources, improved security measures and the pluses and minuses of decommissioning a pair of reactors that provide electricity for two million people.

"I am trying to educate myself and my constituents," said Ms. Galef, who attended her first N.R.C. meeting in 1983, as a county legislator. She has been a regular ever since, long before a small band of antinuclear activists swelled to a furious horde in the wake of the World Trade Center attack.

She has already gathered and shared a trove of information:

¶The Entergy Corporation, owner of the reactors, pays 95 percent of the village taxes in Buchanan and half the school taxes, and it employs 1,500 people.

¶The loss of the 2,000 megawatts produced by Indian Point would raise electricity rates in the region by 20 to 40 percent.

¶Shutting the reactors could increase the danger of a release of radioactivity from spent fuel rods. At other decommissioned plants, like one she visited in Haddam, Conn., security was reduced once there was no revenue.

¶The N.R.C. has done simulations of the damage a small plane would cause at the reactors, which is said to be minimal, but is only now planning a similar study involving a Boeing 747.

Unlike most politicians in the area, from town supervisors to candidates for governor, Ms. Galef is not howling for the reactors to be shut down immediately lest they be struck by a hijacked airplane fully loaded with jet fuel, a doomsday possibility that has dominated conversation in these parts since the Sept. 11 attacks and the later threats to the nation's 83 nuclear plants.

At community meetings in the months since, suddenly attended by other elected officials who never took an interest before, Ms. Galef has avoided taking a position of yea or nay, arguing that closing Indian Point is a simple-minded response in an era of growing energy needs.

"You can't walk away from 2,000 megawatts of power and say we'll be O.K.," she said. "People are demanding we decommission these reactors tomorrow and then hoping when they open the refrigerator that everything isn't defrosted."

Ms. Galef, 62, surveyed her Tudor home here, a cozy refuge from the bland motel room in Albany where she pitches camp four nights a week when the Legislature is in session.

"Think about what we've added in the way of things that get plugged in," she said, ticking off computers and television sets, air-conditioning, fax and copier machines. "Why, even I have one of those electric toothbrushes."

This is the home where Ms. Galef and her late husband, Steve, raised their two children, Greg, 35, a financial planner, and Gwen, 32, an assistant district attorney in Manhattan who is expecting her first baby. It is also the place where Ms. Galef nursed her husband through a yearlong struggle with throat cancer, commuting daily to Albany and returning to his side each night.

Mr. Galef, a lawyer who spent four years in the County Legislature, compared with his wife's 13 there, became ill just as Ms. Galef was about to begin a campaign for County Executive, after Andrew P. O'Rourke left the job. It was a race she never ran. But within months of Steve Galef's death in 1998, she was out on the street shaking hands and passing out fliers for re-election, choking back tears when neighbors offered condolences.

THE Galefs had shared a love of politics and government since junior high school in White Plains. She was a perpetual winner in campaigns for class secretary, he a failed candidate for president. In those days, they were buddies, dating each other's friends.

Romance blossomed while she was a student at Purdue and he at Washington and Lee, where he won his first election. Conversation in the Galef household was always about public policy, even after her husband moved from county government to a full-time legal practice so somebody made enough money to pay the mortgage and the college tuitions.

Her daughter, Gwen, showed early promise as a politician, winning an election in the third grade that some might call a tainted victory, since her parents handed out lollipops at the polls. "A bribe," Ms. Galef cheerfully admitted.

Gwen Galef has taken her father's place as political sounding board, and could take up the family business. "I can see my daughter doing something political," Ms. Galef said. "Maybe a judge-type thing."

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