“There are 15,000 such facilities in the United States, including an estimated 111 that, if attacked, could each put a million or more people at risk of death or injury,” writes environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in his new book, “Crimes Against Nature.”
The Kuehne plant has long been considered a top target for terrorists in terms of the numbers of people injured or killed in the event that hazardous chemicals are released from its tanks.
Kennedy also raised concerns over Indian Point, a nuclear power plant on the other side of the Hudson River . An attack on the plant could cause a catastrophic cloud of radioactive gas that could pervade a 50-mile radius and put millions at risk of death or injury.
“Since Sept. 11, the White House has done nothing to require better security at those 15,000 chemical manufacturing facilities, oil tank farms, pesticide plants, and other repositories of deadly chemicals,” Kennedy writes. “Nor has it forced the nuclear industry to beef up security adequately at its 103 nuclear power plants.”
Many including Kennedy want the plant closed or formidable security features to be set in place in order to ensure the safety of 20 million people in the New York City area. In the worst-case scenario, people residing in the most outer-lying areas including Lyndhurst , Belleville , Nutley , Bloomfield , Harrison, East Newark, North Arlington and Kearny are also at risk.
Kennedy says the targets are ambitious ones for terrorists because of their proximity to New York City . But the catastrophe would also devastate New Jersey , and activists like Kennedy say emergency management officials on the local, state and federal levels appear unprepared.
“What unprecedented measures has Bush enacted to prevent this horror from occurring?” Kennedy writes. “Next to none.”
The charge that government has done little or nothing to protect citizens from an attack on the Kuehne Chemical Company raises the ire of veteran policeman John Manley, a sergeant with the Kearny Police Department, who says that law officers on local, state and federal levels have studied plant security.
“There have been many, many meetings and federal money placed into the security of that plant,” Manley said. “There have been tremendous measures taken. And there are things that I won’t discuss with you that I don’t want people to know about because it will hinder those efforts.”
Kennedy’s allegations “are not entirely true,” agreed Joe Konopka, a deputy coordinator for the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management. “There have been some improvements there – safety improvements and target hardening.”
From the outside, cement barricades prevent a truck loaded with explosives from ramming into the plant. There is always the presence of at least one police officer in a patrol car positioned outside the plant’s gates.
Kearny Mayor Al Santos said local officials have worked with the federal government to improve security.
“The location is under the jurisdiction of the state and federal homeland security offices, and all security matters are reviewed by them,” Santos said. “The police chief and OEM (Office of Emergency Management) are the ones who communicate with the federal authorities about all security issues.”
But Rick Hind, legislative director for the Greenpeace Organization in Washington , D.C. , says current measures were not enough to stop him from twice visiting the plant, including once in May 2003 when Hind says he drove up in a van with tinted windows that contained six of his colleagues.
“We drove right up and took pictures and nobody stopped us,” Hind said.
Manley, the Kearny police sergeant, disputes this. “He’s a liar,” Manley charged. “I guarantee you that never happened.”
But a grainy videotape available on the Internet seems to bolster Hind’s claim. Taken from the vantage point of a dashboard, it shows a motorist driving unimpeded through the plant’s front gates and approaching several rail car tanks, presumably filled with chlorine. The videotape is dated May 10, 2003.
Two years before the attacks on the World Trade Center , the Kuehne Chemical Plant filed a risk-management plan with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Under the Clean Air Act, every company that uses extremely hazardous chemicals is required to file such a plan.
The report offered a frightening worst-case scenario of what might happen in an attack on the plant: “Fully loaded railroad tank car releases all its chlorine within 10 minutes. The resulting cloud of chlorine vapor would be immediately dangerous to both life and health for a distance exceeding 14 miles. The total population in this radius is approximately 12 million.”
Hind took a special interest in Kuehne after Sept. 11, 2001.
“The lessons of 9/11 are two-fold,” Hind said. “One, the terrorists used our own infrastructure against us. Two, we can prevent that from happening in places (like Kuehne) where we are extremely vulnerable from being attacked.”
Hind calls Kuehne the “number one” terrorist target in the nation in terms of the number of people who can be put at risk. After twice visiting the plant and assessing the security there, Hind said he developed several theories on how a terrorist might attack the chlorine tanks.
“A high-powered rifle might be enough to create a disaster without going through security,” Hind said. “A 50-cal. rifle bullet penetrates one-inch of armor-plated steel.”
Hind’s statements anger Manley, who charged that activists who work with the media to publicize such theories create public fear and might actually give terrorists ideas they didn’t have before. “Before the publicity, few people had heard of Kuehne,” Manley said.
To most local people, terrorist targets seem most frightening when they are close to home. But consider the Indian Point power plant, a nuclear reactor many miles away. If attacked, West Hudson and surrounding areas fall easily within the zone for devastation.
Authorities on Indian Point nuclear plant, which is located on the east bank of the Hudson River outside Buchanan, N.Y. – just 22 miles from Manhattan and owned by the Arkansas power conglomerate Entergy recently stated that the frail nuclear power plant is at the end of its energy production lifespan – not to mention – a “vulnerable” target for terrorists jeopardizing the lives of 20 million people including those in the surrounding areas.
“No one is taking responsibility for safety at Indian Point,” Kennedy told The Observer. “Either Entergy or the Federal government needs to step-up and improve security on many levels.”
And like Kuehne, security at Indian Point seems questionable at best. On Oct. 19, two staff members with The Observer newspaper drove through the front gates of the plant, parked their vehicle and roamed about the plant grounds for about five minutes before being approached by security.
Captain Bill Sheehan, a member of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which is located in Lyndhurst , is also in favor of closing the plant down for environmental reasons. “Not a single nuclear power plant has been built in the United States since Three Mile Island occurred,” said Sheehan, a member of the Coast Guard who operates riverboat cruises along the Hackensack River . “ Chernobyl was the final wake-up call to rid ourselves of this type of energy.” According to Sheehan, nuclear power plants have a life expectancy between 20 and 30 years.
“Indian Point was built in the early seventies and it is indeed at the end of its life expectancy,” Sheehan added.
A study conducted by Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that the chances of a reactor meltdown increase by nearly a factor of 100 at Indian Point because the plant’s drainage pits (also known as containment sumps) are “almost certain” to be blocked with debris during an accident.
“The NRC has known about the containment sump problem at Indian Point since September 1996, but currently plans to fix it only by March 2007,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists.” The NRC cannot take more than a decade to fix a safety problem that places millions of Americans at undue risk.”
Entergy spokesperson James Steets said that there’s no rush to fix the problems with the emergency system because a breakdown isn’t likely in the first place.
“There has been $30 million in upgrades that includes bomb detection devises, new weapons, hand print recognition machines, security cameras installed along the barbed wire perimeter of the compound, and extra vehicular barricades,” said Steets. “In regards to air-restrictions, the FCC determines that not the NRC.”
According to authorities at the NRC, Indian Point#2 reactor would exhaust all of its cooling water in less than 23 minutes, while the #3 reactor would consume all of its water in only 14 minutes.
Some believe any evacuation plan is futile. “It’s a joke. There’s no way that many people could flee this area,” said Sheehan. “Where would people go and how would they get there in the event of a nuclear meltdown or other radioactive release at Indian Point is unclear.”
In September 2002, New York Governor George Pataki commissioned a report on Indian Point’s evaluation plan. He picked James Lee Witt, the former Rose Law Firm attorney who served as head of FEMA during the Clinton administration, to oversee the investigation. At the time, Pataki said that he would support any closure of the plant if Witt’s report revealed the communities near the plant could not be safely evacuated.
Witt submitted his report on January 10, 2003, which concluded that Entergy’s off-site evacuation plans for Indian Point were “woefully inadequate.” Witt wrote: “It is our conclusion that the current radiological response system and capabilities are not adequate to overcome their combined weight and protect people from an unacceptable dose of radiation in the event of a release from Indian Point, especially if the release is faster or larger than the design basis release.” In the end, Witt concluded that it was not possible to fix the evacuation plan, given the problems at the plant, the density of the nearby communities and looming security threats. New York Governor Pataki’s campaigning vows to close the plant have never come to fruition nor has New York Senator Hillary Clinton taken substantial legislative steps to close the plant. Some suggest it may be due to her former Presidential husband receiving over $100,000 from Entergy, as he climbed his way out of Little Rock and into the Oval Office.
The prospect of a terrorist attack at the Indian Point nuclear power plant has been a source of great concern for residents and elected officials of the New York metropolitan area since the al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – particularly since one of the hijacked planes flew over Indian Point on its way to New York . The recently released 9/11 Commission Report revealed that Mohammed Atta, the plot’s ringleader who piloted one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center, “considered targeting a nuclear facility he had seen during familiarization flights near New York.” Given that the reconnaissance flight paths used by the terrorists included the Hudson River corridor and that the next closest nuclear facility to New York City is over 70 miles away, the plant in question was almost certainly Indian Point. Although the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recently required marginal security enhancements at Indian Point and other U.S. nuclear power plants, the plants remain highly vulnerable to air and water-based attacks as well as to ground assaults by large and sophisticated terrorist teams with paramilitary training and advanced weaponry. Of special concern is the vulnerability of facilities that contain equipment vital for safe plant operation, yet are insufficiently hardened against attack.
In September, a study was released that showed an attack on Indian Point could cause up to 518,000 long-term deaths from cancer and up to 44,000 near-term deaths from acute radiation poisoning, depending on weather conditions. The study was commissioned by Riverkeeper, a Hudson River-based environmental group. Dr. Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, authored the report entitled “Chernobyl-on-the-Hudson?: The Health and Economic Impacts of a Terrorist Attack at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant.” Dr. Lyman calculated with the same computer models and methodology used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy to analyze the health and economic impacts of radiological accidents. The study updates a 1982 congressional report based on Sandia National Laboratories’ CRAC-2 (Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences) study. CRAC-2 found that a core meltdown and consequent radiological release at one of the two operating Indian Point reactors could cause 50,000 early fatalities from acute radiation syndrome and 14,000 latent fatalities from cancer. Dr. Lyman’s report found that the potential for early deaths – 44,000 cases – is comparable to the 1982CRAC-2 estimate and the peak number of latent cancer fatalities – 518,000 cases – is over 35 times greaterthan the CRAC-2 estimate, corresponding to a scenario where weather conditions maximize the rain-relatedfallout of radioactivity over New York City . “The study’s findings confirm what Riverkeeper and hundreds of the region’s elected officials have saidall along: Indian Point poses an unacceptable risk to the 20 million people – including all New York Cityresidents – who live and work in the New York metropolitan area,” said Alex Matthiessen, Riverkeeper’s executive director. “The time for our elected officials to take their heads out of the sandhas passed. Federal and state officials are effectively shielding the nuclear industry from whathas become an obvious new reality since 9/11: nuclear plants are sitting ducks and need substantially moresecurity than is currently required – none more than Indian Point which lies just 24 miles up the Hudsonfrom New York City. The time has come for the government to move immediately to impose stringent security measures for Indian Point and begin planning for the plant’s early retirement.” “The data clearly show that a terrorist attack at Indian Point could have a catastrophic impact on thehealth of New York City residents, yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not require the development of emergency plans to protect this vulnerable population,” said Dr. Lyman. “A thorough and honest evaluation of the feasibility and effectiveness of protective actions such as sheltering, evacuation and administration of potassium iodide is badly needed for individuals living far beyond the 10-mile emergency planning zone around Indian Point.”
U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine believes President George W. Bush’s victory in last Tuesday’s election is not going to boost efforts for government regulation of private chemical plants.
“With the outcome of this election it is going to be harder to get anything done,” Corzine told The Observer on Monday. “I took the whole issue of chemical plant security very seriously following 9/11. The government had the opportunity to support my bills, but they believe the private companies are doing enough voluntarily to secure their plants.”
Corzine believes Keuhne takes the security of its plant very seriously, but wants more to be done to protect the company and country. Corzine does not know the specific makeup of the chlorine plant, but does want Keuhne to enhance its technology of producing the chemical. Corzine has proposed that the government pay the chemical companies to move their businesses out of high-risk areas such as metropolitan New York . He has asked the federal government, which is against offering money to the plants, to pay the chemical companies as much as $80 million to move out of town.
“This is one of those places that the federal government would be well advised to provide financial incentives to the plant since it is in such a threatening area,” said Corzine. “My plan has met resistance after lobbyists have gotten to the government. We clearly do not have enough security at plants such as Keuhne. It just seems to me we are at high risk and need to pay more attention.”
Corzine compares the private chemical plants, such as Keuhne, to national power plants throughout the country. The power plants have National Guard and other military branches protecting it from possible terrorist attacks, and he believes the same needs to be done to private plants.
“I am not trying to beat up the company (Keuhne), but the fact is this would not be tolerated at a national power plant.”
The state, county and municipal emergency management offices say they have contingency plans in place should a hazardous materials incident occur at Kuehne, Indian Point or another terrorist target. Any specific plans beyond a pledge to coordinate with each other and other pertinent agencies, however, are hard to discern.
The Essex County Office of Emergency Management, for example, has posted 400 evacuation route signs along 90 miles of county roads in August and September. That county office, said its public information officer Kevin Lynch, also has a thick contingency book.
“We have an 8,000-page book for every natural or man-made situation,” said Lynch. “Every county and municipal OEM has to have one. However, one never knows how to respond to a particular incident until it happens.”
The blue-and-white directional signs’ posting by the county and the New Jersey Department of Transportation may have been the most visible of recent disaster preparation. The trailblazers are found on such major streets as Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield , Washington Avenue in Belleville and Kingsland Street in Nutley . They give an appearance of fanning people away from Newark and onto state, federal or interstate highways – a notion that Lynch dispels.
“The signs are for any disasters,” said Lynch. “Contrary to what some other weekly papers have written about the signs, they’re not for evacuating people away from Newark . They’re used to direct people to municipally designated shelters.”
Respective Hudson and Bergen county OEM officials say they too have evacuation routes planned but are skeptical about publicly marking them. Bergen County Deputy OEM Coordinator Lt. Dwane Razzetti said that flexibility in an evacuation is a consideration.
“We go four or five deep with evacuation routes,” said Razzetti. “If something happens where a Route A can’t be used, we have a Route B to redirect traffic on to.”
Should evacuation route signs be installed in Bergen County , Razzetti said it would have to be done with NJDOT cooperation. Konopka, of the Hudson County OEM , said that he does not know if his office is considering similar sign placement.
“The signs were originally labeled ‘ Coastal Evacuation Route ,’ and were posted to help drivers get to the one or two roads out of a coastline town in case of a hurricane,” said Konopka. “ Maybe Bergen County can plan evacuation routes from Hackensack but our county is largely residential. If we have to block a highway, we’d do it with barricades because it’s been our experience that drivers will go around ‘Road Closed’ signs.”
Harrison OEM Coordinator and Fire Chief Thomas Dolaghan said he has seen evacuation route signs in shoreline towns but has not received any indication about signage from Hudson County .
“I haven’t heard from the county but it seems like a good idea,” said Dolaghan. “If we have to evacuate, we’d likely use Interstate 280 and take that to where the State Police designates as a safe place.”
Dolaghan said he, like other municipal and county coordinators, have a contingency planning book at hand and a copy filed with the State Police. Of the two companies that have or use hazardous materials in town, he said one is a warehouse for a newsprint lubricant. The chief added that his department and other local agencies practice regular emergency preparedness drills among themselves or with the county.
“Two of my firefighters went to see how the new county decontamination truck is used in Jersey City on Nov. 4,” said Dolaghan. “Our departments generally practice at the post office. Where the drill is and what’s it for is sometimes a security issue.”
Dolaghan’s Lyndhurst colleague is Chief of Police James O’Connor. O’Connor also sees the advantages and drawbacks of marking evacuation routes.
“I can see those signs for along the shore or in flooding areas,” said O’Connor. “My concern is what happens if we have a truck with a chlorine spill and the signs head traffic into the spill site; then the signs would be confusing.”
Nutley ’s deputy OEM coordinator and fire inspector Dave Wilson said he’s had only a call or two about the signs since they were put up last summer.
“The couple of questions were about where the routes went to,” said Wilson . “The routes tend to send people west but the destinations depend on what, where and when the emergency is.”“
This article originally appeared in The Observer