Editorials

“Whistling past the graveyard on Indian Point’s security” by Phil Riesman

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the corporate officials of Entergy Northeast and their political proxies have insisted that Indian Point was more than adequately prepared to thwart a terrorist attack.

For three years and a day, they have pounded into our heads a public relations mantra that the aging power plants are “safe, secure and vital” and that a “robust” veil of protection was in place to deter an assault from the air, land and sea.

Whenever anyone disagreed, they blurred their message with “Dear Neighbor” letters of denial and obfuscation.

Whenever anyone presented evidence suggesting that Entergy-on-Hudson was, in fact, dangerously vulnerable to the whims of al-Qaida and that a well-aimed, fully fueled kamikaze jet could penetrate the concrete enclosures and cause a nuclear disaster, they frequently killed the messenger.

When an independent study commissioned by the governor himself said there was no way that a quick and orderly evacuation could be achieved in the event of a massive release of radiation, they discredited the experts, played dumb and finally said, in effect, “Hey, not my job, boss.”

Don’t worry, they said, we know best. Don’t listen to the fear mongers, the misinformed alarmists and Chicken Littles. We’re on the job. The nuke plant is safe and secure.

But was it?

While the Republicans were gassing on and on during their convention about how the nation’s security couldn’t be trusted in the hands of John Kerry, two facts came to light about how poorly protected Indian Point has been for the past 36 months.

First, it turns out that during most of that period there was no permanent patrol boat stationed in the Hudson River to guard the plant. More incredibly, it was revealed that even though the private security force at Indian Point was armed, the guards were not legally authorized to actually fire their weapons or even arrest anyone. This would be the stuff of satire if it were not so disturbing.

As it happened, both of these glaring deficiencies were corrected a day after the GOP convention adjourned. Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining, whose district includes the Buchanan plant, announced that the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs will soon have a boat to patrol the waters and, thanks to legislation she co-sponsored, the guards will finally be permitted to use deadly force.

But think about it. Think about how many Code Orange scares have come and gone since the World Trade Center towers fell three years and a day ago.

The Bush Republicans talk the talk about homeland security. Dick Cheney all but said that a vote for Kerry is tantamount to a vote for Osama bin Laden. But when it came to adequately defending a nuclear power plant that sits 40 miles upriver from Ground Zero, these big talkers were asleep at the switch. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Indian Point was essentially guarded by a slow-moving buoy tender, a few National Guardsmen, a small suburban police force and a security crew that wasn’t allowed to shoot.

Here’s a question for the wild-eyed Zell Miller: What were they supposed to use, spitballs?

Three years and a day after the towers fell, we know at least a couple of things. We know that Mohamed Atta, the Saudi terrorist who led the Sept. 11 attacks, considered striking a nuclear power facility near New York City . And we know that Indian Point still has serious security gaps.

More measures need to be taken.

Riverkeeper, the nonprofit organization and perhaps the most vocal opponent of Indian Point, is pushing for the placement of stationery water barriers that would impede incoming vessels and serve as a 24-hour-a-day supplement to the boat patrols. The group also is calling for the installation of something called “Beamhenge,” a system of vertical steel beams and cables that would be constructed like a protective web over the plant’s nuclear containment domes and spent fuel pools. Beamhenge is supposedly designed to fragment a jet attack.

And it’s relatively cheap, points out Alex Matthiesen, Riverkeeper’s director. “Cheap,” incidentally, may be the operative word when it comes to Indian Point. For if we’re truly in an all-out war here at home, as the Code Orangemen keep telling us, then how do we employ the necessary discipline to ensure the protection of a potential terrorist target that is privately owned by a company whose bottom-line priorities may supersede the interests of the public at large? Matthiesen pointed out that the license to run Indian Point specifically exempts Entergy from being responsible for security.

So who is responsible? Three years and a day later, that question still isn’t answered to anyone’s satisfaction.

This editorial originally appeared in the Journal News

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