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Source: Newsday

Critics: Are nuclear plants near LI safe?


Posted: March 15, 2011
Originally Published: March 14, 2011

Some Long Island nuclear power critics say the crisis unfolding at damaged reactors in quake-ravaged Japan raises questions about the safety of nearby plants in Westchester and Connecticut.

"It highlights that nuclear power is anything but clean," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale. "We always anticipated that the Japanese will have the best nuclear technology available, and even theirs is facing a nuclear catastrophe."

But others say such a crisis is unlikely in the region, where earthquakes and tsunamis are rare.

Plant operators and federal regulators say the Indian Point facility in Westchester and the Millstone Power Stations across Long Island Sound are designed to withstand a range of disasters, including hurricanes, the more likely natural catastrophe.

They said reactors across the country also have built-in layers of redundancy -- concrete containment domes and backup generators to cool nuclear fuel and prevent meltdowns -- that serve as backstops against radiological releases.

"Right now we are confident they are safe; they are built to withstand powerful earthquakes and tsunamis," said David McIntyre, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Not everyone shares that confidence. Last week Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters that U.S. nuclear plants don't have enough backup power to shut down safely in a disaster.

Former utility executive Matthew Cordaro called such condemnations premature. He said nuclear energy has a nearly spotless track record in the U.S. "All the experts tell me they don't think that the plants in this country would be susceptible to the same scenario that took place in Japan," Cordaro said.

Still, on Long Island the events in Japan seem to have confirmed the fears of those who already distrust nuclear power. Among their concerns: potential exposure to radiation for the millions who live near the plants, and contamination of the Sound or Hudson River.

"Workers in the [Japanese] plant were told the same lies we were told here -- this can never happen, don't worry about an earthquake, don't worry about a tsunami," said Peter Maniscalco, an environmental educator and activist who fought the Shoreham nuclear plant decades ago.

Maniscalco said the Indian Point facility in Buchanan, N.Y., should be shut down because it sits above two seismic faultlines. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is conducting a review of seismic issues at all central and Eastern U.S. power plants; the review began before the Japan earthquake.

Jerry Nappi, a spokesman for Entergy, which owns Indian Point, said the worst earthquake forecast in the Hudson Valley region "is about 1,000 times weaker than what was experienced in Japan" and called the facility "an incredibly strong, robust plant."