April 11, 2002
Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

While reading this Bob Herbert piece on the Indian Point nuclear power facility, a couple of thoughts flashed through my head.

For one thing, it's had a disturbing safety history and one of its two reactors currently has the worst safety rating of all 103 reactors in the United States

I'd like a little more clarification on this. What were/are the problems? And "worst safety rating" is a very nebulous term; since we have had only one close call in the US with nuclear power (Three Mile Island), we have a very good record regarding safety. And, of course, no matter how good our record is, there has to be one that is "the worst". If a class with eight students has four students with a 98 average, three with a 96, and one with a 95, then the 95 is the worst average. It's still outstanding, but it is the worst.

Also, Herbert neglects to mention the purchase of the facilities by a private concern (Entergy Nuclear). Previously, the two plants had been operated by two different organizations. Consolidated Edison ran plant two and New York Power Authority ran plant three. Now both are run by the same company, yet Herbert doesn't mention whether the "disturbing safety history" was before or after the Entergy acquisition.

And new polling data compiled by the respected Marist Institute for Public Opinion show that more and more residents of the metropolitan area feel that the benefits to be derived from the continued operation of Indian Point are not worth the risks.
The polling was done for Riverkeeper, an environmental group that is campaigning to have the power plant shut down. Separate surveys were conducted of people living within 10 miles of the plant and residents within a 50-mile radius.

I would be really interested in the exact wording of the questions used in this poll, considering that the commissioners of the poll have an open bias against the plant. Were they neutral questions, such as "Do you feel that Indian Point should be shut down?" or was it more along the lines of "Do you think that the risk of a terrorist attack on Indian Point, which could irradiate 100 square miles, is just cause to shut down this potential killer?" I exaggerate to make a point, but bias in polls is well-known, and a group with an agenda is more likely to use the wording of a poll to bolster their allegations.

Large majorities of those who want the plant closed said they favored a shutdown even if that would mean a jump in energy costs, a loss of jobs at the plant and a significant loss of revenue to the Westchester County town of Cortlandt, where Indian Point is located.

Did anyone attach dollar figures to a potential price increase? Many people favor high-minded, "progressive" plans until they are made aware of just how much it will cost them. Considering that New York is already straining its power plants to meet demand, shutting down the two operational reactors at Indian Point (which generate over 1.9GW of electricity) is foolish.

20% of New York's power is derived from nuclear power. Can you imagine the impact of cutting off one fifth of the total power supply for a state as populous and energy-dependent as New York? It's mind-boggling.

And of course, there is no comment from town officials in Cortlandt, the town that has the biggest stake in the whole issue. For that matter, the only quotes were from a writer for the Natural Resources Defense Council and the executive director for Riverkeeper. A little balance might have been nice. At least it wasn't billed as a straight news article.

Alex Matthiessen, Riverkeeper's executive director, said at the press conference, "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission would never allow this plant to be built today. They wouldn't build it in such a dense area."

This is speculation. The last nuclear power plant to begin operations in the US was Watts Bar, which began operating in 1996. Construction of that facility began in 1973, btw. Of operating plants, the last to begin construction was Wolf Creek (Kansas), which began construction in 1977. Since nobody has tried to build a plant since then, Mr. Mattheson has no idea whether or not the plant would be approved.

posted on April 11, 2002 07:32 PM


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