Says It Can't Certify Indian Point Evacuation Plan
The New York Times, January 31, 2003
By Randal C. Archibold
New York State said yesterday that it could not
approve an emergency plan for the area around the Indian Point nuclear
plant, asking the federal government to take the next step in the fierce
battle over the two reactors in Westchester County.
Gov. George E. Pataki did not comment on the merits
of the emergency plan, which has come under increasing attack since
a consultant he hired reported this month that it was inadequate to
protect the public from a release of radiation, especially a large release
from a terrorist attack. But Mr. Pataki said in a statement that the
report "has heightened our concerns about the adequacy of the emergency
plans for these communities."
Today is the deadline for New York to issue its
normally routine annual certification of the emergency plan, which the
state drafts in consultation with federal and local officials and the
plant owner. But the state told federal officials yesterday that it
could not give that approval because the four counties surrounding the
plant, concerned about safety, had refused to issue their own certifications.
In effect, the governor sought to shift the focus
to federal agencies, which will decide what happens next and will face
pressure from opponents of Indian Point to close the plant, 35 miles
north of Midtown Manhattan, in Buchanan.
Many of those opponents, including local elected
officials, hailed the state's move as an important step in their campaign.
But closing the plant would require at least a year of legal and administrative
decisions, with the plant's owner, the Entergy Corporation, fighting
at every turn. And New York's message yesterday was cast more as a bureaucratic
formality than an emphatic statement.
In a letter to the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, the state said it simply could not give its annual certification
to the plan because the four counties had refused to submit required
"checklists." Those forms confirm that the counties have performed
necessary training and drills and have completed various administrative
Mr. Pataki urged FEMA and the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, which requires a FEMA-approved plan as a condition of the
plant's operating license, to heed the counties' concerns and "continue
working with us to ensure that these plans will protect our residents
in the event of a nuclear emergency."
A spokesman for FEMA, Mike Beeman, said officials
were reviewing the letter, which they received late yesterday, and had
not determined what their next step might be. For one thing, the spokesman
said, it was not clear what if anything the state was asking of the
emergency agency, or if it intended to send a letter of certification
at a later date.
"It is an incomplete," Mr. Beeman said,
adding that the agency planned to deliver a fuller response, perhaps
as early as today.
At any rate, he said, a report the agency is completing
on the plant, due within a month, would carry more weight than the state's
letter in deciding whether the emergency plan is adequate.
Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires
a FEMA-approved plan, it has never closed a plant over emergency planning
problems; indeed, it has never closed a plant permanently against an
Even if it decides an evacuation plan is inadequate,
the commission can give the plant owner a chance to show that the plan
is adequate or that the owner can address the problems. The commission
can also let the owner offer "other compelling reasons for continued
operation," and Entergy has often pointed out that Indian Point
contributes at least one-fifth of the electricity for New York City
and its northern suburbs.
The company, which has defended the emergency plan
as realistic, said yesterday that it welcomed the state's move as an
opportunity to improve the plan.
Advocates for shutting the plant also took heart
in the state's move.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat
who has led the fight to close the plant, criticized Mr. Pataki for
not explicitly opposing the plan, but he said that even a tacit sign
from the state might be good enough.
"It is inconceivable that FEMA can certify
the plan over the objections of the counties and the state, even if
the objection of the state is in the form of a quiet whine from deep
in a bunker," Mr. Brodsky said.
Alex Matthiessen, executive director of Riverkeeper,
an environmental organization that has led a coalition of plant foes,
said, "It puts us one step closer to closing the plant."
Mr. Pataki's stance suggests that the state cannot
or will not play a lead role in emergency planning. That was not the
case in 1983, when Gov. Mario M. Cuomo faced a similar dilemma after
Rockland County refused to participate in emergency drills for the plant.
The state told the N.R.C. then that it could fill
in for Rockland emergency workers, and the commission voted to accept
the plan and allow the plant to continue operating.
"The governor assured the plant would stay
open by using state resources," said Alfred Delbello, a former
Westchester County executive, who as Mr. Cuomo's lieutenant governor
organized the state plan. Doing the same for four counties, however,
would prove a challenge, he said.
Both supporters and foes of the plant said the Indian
Point debate put Mr. Pataki in something of a bind. Although his home
in Garrison is within the evacuation zone for the plant, he infrequently
addressed the concerns raised about the plant before the Sept. 11, 2001,
terror attacks heightened anxiety.
Mr. Pataki hired the consultant, James Lee Witt,
the former director of FEMA, in August as Mr. Pataki's opponents in
the governor's re-election campaign began making the plant's safety
Mr. Witt's preliminary report — a final report
is due next month — forced Mr. Pataki to balance the concerns
of allies in the business community, who want to see the plant operating,
and those of many suburban constituents who have taken Mr. Witt's findings
"He is really in a box because a lot of his
suburban support is concerned about Indian Point," said Blair Horner,
legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group,
which wants the plant shut down. "But he has the other factor of
the business community, which would view closing the plant as a negative
signal. And he has to come up with the energy."
If Indian Point were to close, much of its power
could be replaced by other sources, but independent analysts have warned
that that could be costly for ratepayers. "There is a practical
reality for him that the plant is a tremendous economic engine for the
state," said Gavin Donahue, executive director of the Independent
Power Producers of New York.