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Message to Engel & Lowey on Indian Point

On Tuesday May 10, 2011, Congressman Eliot Engel and Congresswoman Nita Lowey took a tour of the Indian Point nuclear plant with the chairman of the NRC, Gregory Jaczko. To avoid NRC using this simply as a public relations event, Riverkeeper encouraged the congressional reps to demand answers during the visit to the very real questions raised by the Fukushima catastrophe. Here is Riverkeeper’s letter in its entirety:

Good afternoon:

Tomorrow, Congressman Engel and Congresswoman Lowey have the unique occasion to tour the Indian Point nuclear plant with NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.

Riverkeeper greatly appreciates and supports Congressman Engel and Congresswoman Lowey’s efforts to address various of the concerns surrounding the operation of Indian Point in the wake of the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear facility. Likewise, Riverkeeper has been working on various fronts to hold the NRC answerable to the many questions raised by this most recent nuclear disaster.

Riverkeeper encourages Congressman Engel and Congresswoman Lowey to use the site visit as an opportunity to continue to hold NRC’s feet to the fire and pose pointed questions, including the following:

  • Why does NRC refuse to require Entergy to move as much spent fuel as possible from the densely packed, leaking pools to dry cask storage? Reducing the density of the fuel in the pools (to the amount they were intended to hold when IP2 and IP3 were designed) is the most effective and reliable option for lessening the risk of a spent fuel pool fire and associated severe radiological releases. Requiring this is justified since the costs of moving the fuel (as low as $20 million) far surpasses the billions of dollars in damage and health impacts that would result from the release of radiation during a pool fire. See, Gordon Thompson, Risk-Related Impacts from Continued Operation of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants (November 2007), at pages 51-52, available at,
  • Why won’t NRC provide the same conservative assumptions that were afforded to American residents in Japan by requiring evacuation planning for a 50-mile radius surrounding U.S. nuclear plants? Ample evidence demonstrates that radiation resulting from an accident or intentional attack at a nuclear power plant will go well beyond 10 miles. Evidence of the spread of contamination from the Fukushima reactor meltdowns and spent fuel pool fire(s) once again shows that a 10 mile emergency planning zone is an artificially small construct and not relevant (for example, an area 40 km (app. 25 miles) from Fukushima was found to be contaminated with cesium at levels more than twice as high as areas around Chernobyl that were permanently evacuated, see
  • Why does NRC refuse to review and assess issues related to the adequacy of emergency preparedness in the Indian Point license renewal proceeding? The determination about whether emergency evacuation would be feasible at Indian Point was made decades ago, before a significant population surge. If the NRC was making an initial licensing decision today about siting a nuclear plant where Indian Point is situated, it is doubtful it would be approved given the unique circumstances of that location. This is an issue that is squarely relevant when thinking about whether or not it is appropriate to allow Indian Point to continue to operate another 20 years.
  • If necessary because of a serious accident (for example, one of similar magnitude to the incident at Fukushima) how would NRC ensure that the 20 million people within 50 miles of Indian Point would be safely evacuated? The former director of FEMA, James Witt, concluded in a 2003 report that the emergency evacuation plan for Indian Point is completely unworkable, and would not adequately protect the public in the event of an actual emergency. See Witt Report, NRC has never addressed the concerns posed by the high population density surrounding the plant, and the litany of issues raised in the Witt Report.
  • What is the NRC and Entergy’s basis for summarily stating that Indian Point is properly equipped to handle earthquakes of other natural phenomenon? A new analysis of seismic information by Columbia University’s Earth Institute shows that the area around Indian Point is susceptible to a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, when Entergy has stated that the plant was only built to withstand a 6.1. See Additionally, NRC’s own recent (September 2010) report shows that Indian Point Unit 3 is at the highest risk of all U.S. nuclear reactors for core damage from an earthquake.
  • Why does the NRC refuse to consider new seismic information in the Indian Point license renewal proceeding? Indian Point was constructed based upon a different scientific understanding about the potential for, and impact of, earthquakes in the region surrounding the plant. New information, which suggests more severe earthquakes are possible near Indian Point, is relevant to the question of whether a 20 year license extension for Units 2 and 3 is appropriate.
  • Are the backup diesel generators at Indian Point susceptible to failure of any kind from natural phenomenon, including floods, storm surges, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc., and are the fuel tanks and associated piping for the backup diesel generators so susceptible? During the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, the backup diesel generators failed due to the devastating Tsunami, demonstrating “a single point vulnerability” of the “redundant” backup systems. Understanding the extent to which backup generators may be vulnerable at Indian Point via any number of natural phenomenon is necessary to avoid similar failures in the event of an emergency situation at the plant.
  • Is the NRC’s long-term review of the lessons of Fukushima going to appropriately consider feedback from the public, including regarding the scope of the review? An open, transparent process for reviewing and analyzing the lessons from Fukushima is essential. A critical aspect of this would be allow public comments and feedback on the scope of the NRC’s long-term review, in order to ensure that the NRC does not improperly frame the inquiry, and close-off review of relevant issues.
  • Is NRC’s review of the lessons of Fukushima going to reevaluate the appropriateness of the numerous exemptions that have been handed out to Indian Point? Indian Point operates under various exemptions from applicable NRC regulations and there is ample concern that NRC has relaxed safety requirements in a cavalier and “upon-request”/at-will fashion. (In fact, so many have been handed out that an NRC official has notoriously stated that NRC “can’t possibly keep track of all of them”). An evaluation of the appropriateness of these exemptions in light of Fukushima is necessary in order to ensure that the plant is operating safely (as opposed to whether it is operating in accordance with its exemptions).

Riverkeeper is available to discuss any of these questions, so please do not hesitate to contact me.

Once again, we appreciate Congressman Engel and Congresswoman Lowey’s work toward shutting down Indian Point, and look forward to further collaborating in the future.

Deborah Brancato, Esq.
Staff Attorney

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