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Peril at Indian Point
The region must prepare better for disaster

BEFORE SEPT. 11, it was mostly the ardent foes of nuclear energy who worried about the Indian Point power plant, located on the Hudson River north of Bergen County.

But you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 had aimed for the twin domes of the Indian Point nuclear reactors instead of Manhattan's twin towers, the region could have had a tragedy of different dimensions on its hands.

These days, more and more people are wondering just how safe it is to live downwind of Indian Point. Staff Writers Bob Ivry and Alex Nussbaum decided to find out. Their report, published in The Record yesterday, no doubt raised many eyebrows - and a few alarm bells. The article not only highlighted the risks at Indian Point, but it also underscored how ill-equipped northern New Jersey is to handle any sort of emergency there.

The bottom line is that the odds are slim against a nuclear catastrophe at Indian Point. And if something did happen - because of a plant malfunction or a terrorist attack - New Jersey probably wouldn't be affected by the radioactive plume.

But our state could face all sorts of traffic jams and panic caused by fleeing people - and long term concerns about increased cancer risks and soil contamination. The time to begin upgrading North Jersey's preparedness - and to insist on stronger security and safety measures at Indian Point is now.

The power plant is just 15 miles from the closest point in New Jersey, and the odds are 1-in-10 that radiation would be blown this way in the event of a calamity. Yet this state has no emergency evacuation plan, no coordinated response, and no regular contact with New York officials on the subject - even though Bergen would be expected to shelter fleeing Rockland County residents.

Aside from terrorism, Indian Point's safety record has been uneven at best. While the Indian Point 3 reactor has gotten a clean bill of health ever since federal regulators began a new oversight program two years ago, Indian Point 2 is the only reactor in the nation to receive a "red finding," requiring the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's highest level of scrutiny.

The "red finding" stemmed from a generator leak in Februry 2000 that spilled 19,000 gallons of radioactive water into a containment building. As a result, the facility was closed for 11 months and later sold by Con Edison to Entergy, a New Orleans-based company. The next NRC evaluation is slated for June.

Supporters of Indian Point say that the risks posed by the nuclear plant are small and that the economic benefits are important - providing enough electricity to power 2 million homes a day.

If Indian Point, with its 1,500 jobs, were to close, New York utilities would have to buy power elsewhere, driving up electricity prices and increasing the chances of blackouts in New York City during peak summer months.

But prudent precautions should not be ignored just because Indian Point is vital to this region.

For Bergen and Passaic counties, that means a fresh look at emergency response and evacuation plans, as well as better coordination with officials in New York. Case in point: Until an official at a county school in Paramus happened to get a brochure in the mail from a school official in Rockland County, he had no idea that his school was supposed to be an evacuation site for 11 Rockland schools.

And even though the chances of a radioactive plume reaching New Jersey are slim, there should still be a discussion on whether North Jersey residents deserve better access to potassium iodide pills, which substantially reduce the risk of thyroid cancer from radiation exposure, especially in children.

Other regions in New York and New Jersey have stockpiled doses of potassium iodide. What about here? If so, who should pay?

Now is the time to address the concerns about Indian Point.

Copyright 2002 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
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