Editorials

“Spano pulls the plug” an Editorial by the Journal News

Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano has taken the sensible step of withholding his approval of an Indian Point emergency plan that an independent, state-commissioned study has demonstrated would not protect the public.

Spano plans today to request the same action from his counterparts in the other counties within the Indian Point evacuation zone: C. Scott Vanderhoef in Rockland, Robert Bondi in Putnam and Edward Diana in Orange. We urge them to agree.

Technically speaking, the county executives are not asked to certify the effectiveness of their plans for mass evacuation and other measures to be taken should a disaster strike the nuclear power plants in Buchanan. What they are called upon to do annually is confirm that their counties have fulfilled a number of duties — such as holding mock emergency drills — that are required by federal authorities. They have routinely done that, sending their completed checklists to the state, which has passed them along to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA then assures the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, which licenses nuclear plants, that adequate emergency planning is in place.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, an increasing number of critics have called the process meaningless, insisting that the emergency plan, and particularly its evacuation component, is a sham. They were vindicated last week when James Lee Witt, a former FEMA director hired by Gov. George Pataki to study the emergency plan, reported that it wouldn’t work. Finding fault with a host of technical issues, the report also found, significantly, that the plan did not account for a fast-moving emergency that a terrorist attack might cause, and that it did not take into account that people — out of ignorance of the plan and out of instinct — wouldn’t follow directions.

Even so, the county executives, if they chose, could retreat behind a technicality and send their documents to the state once more. We did what was asked of us, they could shrug; it’s not our fault that we weren’t asked to do enough.

Indeed, that was Spano’s initial reaction when the Witt report surfaced Friday. He continued to call the plan a good one while acknowledging Witt’s observations about its limited scope.

Spano apparently had second — and better — thoughts. His new conclusion: It doesn’t matter if federal authorities are satisfied, if they are satisfied with a plan that would fail. If FEMA can’t somehow fix the emergency plan’s standards in line with Witt’s recommendations, a spokeswoman said, Spano would be in favor of an Indian Point shutdown.

The Witt report has brought renewed calls for that step to be taken from many sources, including Westchester legislators and Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, whose own critical analysis of the evacuation plan foreshadowed many of Witt’s findings. Rep. Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, has become a convert to the cause.

The state Emergency Management Office is supposed to tell FEMA by the end of the month that the counties have their emergency acts in order. If the counties — if even Westchester alone — does not vouch for the plan, the state office would not be able to. Unless the federal agency knows something about the emergency plan it has not shared, it would not be in a position to tell the NRC that emergency planning — a condition of nuclear licensing — is in order.

The NRC could order emergency planning to be fixed within four months. But, given the deficiencies cited in the Witt report, that seems impossible.

A temporary shutdown of Indian Point, at the least, seems inevitable.“

This editorial originally appeared in the Journal News

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