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Perspective

The issues facing Entergy's nuclear plant are fixable. Why shut it down?
Fortnightly Magazine - May 1 2003

radioactive release from the core of the plant, however initiated. Federal law already requires the capability to respond to radiological events ranging widely in severity and speed, totally independent of the initiating event, and totally independent of whether the plant is operating or not. And since 9/11, U.S. nuclear plants, already the most hardened industrial facilities in the world, have been strengthened further at the NRC's insistence, and the scope of contingencies against which they must guard expanded.

New York state and the four counties have two clear responsibilities. One is to address promptly and together the shortcomings found by FEMA and as many of those found by Witt as feasible. That can be done, unquestionably. The second, fortified by this remedial effort, is to do their duty and re-certify their own plans, notwithstanding the political heat.

This latter task will take government leadership. As the Witt report observed, years of charged polemic around Indian Point have apparently negated workmanlike but uninspired public-information efforts by local authorities, producing a population "high in awareness but low in knowledge," and leaving public institutions in a state of undermined credibility.

It is possible to have effective emergency planning for nuclear plants without state or local governmental cooperation. In the 1980s, Suffolk County and New York state (relying on a report that purported to find that adequate emergency planning for the virtually complete Shoreham plant on Long Island was impossible) abruptly abandoned emergency planning for the plant. In response to this undisguised effort to frustrate its NRC operating license, the utility, Long Island Lighting Co., stepped into the breach. It drew up its own offsite plan, trained its own employees in place of public emergency workers, and demonstrated the efficacy of its plan and organization to FEMA and the NRC. Though Shoreham deservedly received its NRC operating license, and though a similar workaround could be effected at Indian Point, such a result is highly undesirable, no matter how effective.

Protecting the citizenry is the government's job, and when governments default on it they compromise their fundamental claim to legitimacy. Nothing is fatally wrong with Indian Point. If the government lives up to its duties, the plant will continue to supply the least expensive component of the New York metropolitan area's electricity; if they don't, the plant will end up being shut down, and those responsible will have to look themselves in the mirror, probably by candlelight.


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