As the clock ticks down toward Fall relicensing hearings for the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Northern Westchester, New Yorkers face a stark choice: are we going to be stuck for another 20 years with an aging nuclear plant sitting precariously on two active earthquake faults, which fails to meet minimum federal fire safety regulations by a country mile and lacks any credible emergency evacuation plan, or will we move to a safe, sustainable, job-creating energy future -- like the vision outlined by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo last month? The right answer is clear: closing Indian Point would be the best thing we can do for New York.
Indian Point was never meant to operate beyond its original 40-year license. There's no place to send its hugely volatile spent fuel, which sits tightly-packed in buildings that the National Academy of Science has indicated could be vulnerable to terrorist attack and systems failure. On June 8, a federal Circuit Appeals Court in Washington, D.C. actually declared the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's national spent fuel management plan invalid, observing that the United States has no plan for disposing of all our spent fuel "other than hoping" that a long-term repository site will magically appear.
Ignoring unpleasant realities associated with nuclear power is par for the course with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a federal agency that Barack Obama once called "moribund" and "captive" of the industry it regulates. Even though the NRC ranked Indian Point just last year as the American nuclear facility facing the biggest risk of reactor damage due to earthquake, the agency refuses even to consider earthquake risks during the upcoming relicensing hearing.
And, what if something does go wrong? No good news there either. Governor George Pataki's hand-picked safety consultant, former FEMA chief James Lee Witt, warned us in 2003 that Indian Point's evacuation plan won't work. He called it a paper plan that's not up to a real world emergency. The NRC won't consider that issue in the relicensing hearings, either. Yet the one thing everyone in this debate agrees on is that there is no way you could evacuate the 18 million metro New York-area residents living within 50 miles of Indian Point to safety.
According to analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Fukushima-level disaster would require over five million of us to evacuate or shelter in place and hundreds of thousands would face heightened cancer risks. The area between Indian Point and the George Washington Bridge would be uninhabitable for generations. And these figures are dwarfed by the degree of risk associated with a Chernobyl-level accident.
The food supply around Fukushima is contaminated in a radius of up to seventy miles. Toxic emissions continue to pour into the atmosphere above the crippled reactors, and the radioactive isotopes that flowed from the plant into the Pacific have recently been detected in Bluefin tuna off the California coast.
Indian Point's operators know how bad this all looks. They hear Governor Cuomo say, "This plant in this proximity to New York City was never a good risk" and they know that most New Yorkers believe there will eventually be a serious accident at Indian Point, according to a recent Marist poll. So, the plant's operators are simply trying to scare us into thinking that the lights will go off if Indian Point shuts down.
In fact, New York has plenty of power without Indian Point. According to data supplied by the New York State Independent System Operator, there is, today, enough surplus power available to close Indian Point tomorrow and meet regional demand through 2020. The Hudson River advocacy organization Riverkeeper, in partnership with NRDC, have shown that over twice the amount of power now supplied by Indian Point can be created by implementing four strategies: increasing energy efficiency, creating new transmission capacity, upgrading old power plants, and building new power plants driven by wind, solar and other renewables.
By prioritizing these options, which would cost as little as $1 per month to the average homeowner, New York can become a national -- even global -- leader in the emerging clean energy economy. There's a growing groundswell supporting this call to "do better" and create an energy future without Indian Point.
So, on the one hand, we have a risk-prone, unsafe nuclear plant with no evacuation plan for the 18 million in harm's way, regulated by an agency more committed to protecting the interests of the nuclear power industry than the health, safety and welfare of the public. On the other, we have safe, economically sensible and environmentally preferable alternatives that are already being put into place. It's time to toss Indian Point's slick mailers that depict kids reading by candlelight into the recycling bin, and tell them to close up shop.