Indian Point: evacuation plans “an unworkable joke”

“Imagine the scene: more than 300,000 people are running and driving away from the stricken reactor along winding Westchester roads, trying to reach their children, their spouses, and their mates. Then they begin to taste a strange, metallic flavor in their mouths. The radio blasts out dire warnings, yet nobody knows what they are doing and nobody is in control.”

So writes Dr. Helen Caldicott, long-time anti-nuclear activist, in her book, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, in describing the scenario of a ‘Manhattan Meltdown’ at the Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River, 30 miles from New York City.

The catastrophic nuclear disaster in Japan has aroused, once again, worldwide fears over nuclear safety. In New York, where state officials are fighting to shut down Indian Point, the impossibility of evacuation in the event of a major accident at Indian Point is at the center of those fears.

Indian Point is surrounded by the most densely populated area of the United States with over 20 million people within a 50-mile radius.  But the federally required evacuation plans only cover people living within a 10-mile radius of the plant. And those plans, such as they are, are “utterly unrealistic” (New York Public Research Interest Group), “an elaborate, unworkable joke” (former state assemblyperson Richard Brodsky), and “a fantasy document” (Purdue University professor Daniel Aldrich), and, says New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, “’not feasible.”

In 2003, longstanding public pressure forced former Governor George Pataki to appoint a commission to analyze evacuation planning for Indian Point. The conclusion:  the plans in place had been drafted only to meet federal regulations, not protect people.

Within days of the disaster in Japan, the NRC recommended evacuation of American citizens living within 50 miles of the Fukushima plant, but holds firm to the 10-mile emergency evacuation zone for U.S. plants. Asked if a feasible plan to evacuate much or all of [New York] city could be drawn up, Entergy’s director of emergency planning, Michael J. Slobodien told the New York Times (“Operators of Indian Point say changes are likely,” 3/21/12) neither he nor federal regulators knew. “We really don’t have enough information to begin to answer that question.”

In its challenge to relicensing Indian Point, the environmental group Clearwater (Beacon, NY) point to the evacuation plans and charges that continued operation of the plant “disproportionately threatens the safety of the very young, the very old, lower-income and minority residents, and people with disabilities and/or limited mobility.”

In its testimony, the group said “institutionalized populations living near Indian Point are virtually ignored by evacuation planning” – “violating principles of environmental justice and procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for identifying and addressing environmental justice concerns.”

“Indian Point is a clear and present danger to my community and it shouldn’t be here,” said Marilyn Elie, co-founder of the Westchester Citizens Awareness Network (WESTCAN) and a longtime activist with the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC).

“In Japan, the U.S. authorities advised Americans to evacuate from a 50-mile zone around the Fukushima plant. Indian Point is next to the densest population of any nuclear power plant in the country. Those of who live here deserve at least the same margin of safety,” Elie said.

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