“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will decide in about a month whether to consider requiring nuclear power companies, including Indian Point’s owner, Entergy, to install backup power systems for their emergency notification systems.
The federal agency held a nationwide conference call yesterday with environmental activists and others who worried that a power outage could hamper nuclear facilities’ emergency alert systems. Several representatives from Riverkeeper, the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition and Westchester and Rockland county legislators said it was absurd not to have a backup system, such as batteries, to help warn residents about a radioactive leak. An Entergy representative participating in the call said the company was opposed to the idea.
Terrorists attacking the plant could take down the electrical power system first, rendering emergency sirens useless, or a regionwide power failure could cause an accident at the plant — again leaving silent sirens and an unwarned population, Westchester County Legislator Michael Kaplowitz, D-Somers, told the regulators. Entergy has 156 sirens in the four counties — Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange — surrounding the plant.
“This really is almost as much a matter of common sense than anything else,” Kaplowitz said on the call. “Let’s get it done. Let’s move on to other problems.”
Reached after the conference call, Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said batteries would be unreliable and would probably only provide enough juice to power each emergency siren for one rotation. The sirens are meant to rotate several times, alerting residents to turn on radios and TVs for more information.
“We’re looking at providing a reverse-911 system (as an option),” said Steets, referring to a computer program that would call and alert everyone within the evacuation zone about a problem.
The conference call was intended to allow those petitioning the NRC to address the commission with additional information, said Jim Lyons, chairman of the NRC’s petition review board. Most of the speakers yesterday focused on the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan. Lyons said the review board hoped to move quickly on the matter.
The board can decide to take one of several actions: to not review the petition, to decide it falls under the purview of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA handles off-site issues related to nuclear plants, such as evacuation plans), or to review it and either implement the action or not. If the board decides to review the petition, it will be about four months before it reaches a decision.
Michele Lee of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition said a set of standards should be formulated for the backup systems, including their maintenance and theft protection. After the call, Lisa Rainwater of Riverkeeper criticized Entergy’s opposition.
“If this is a company that is at the forefront of health and safety, this is a no-brainer,” she said.
In February, Entergy performed a quarterly test of its 156 warning sirens. Only two of the devices, which are meant to warn residents within the plants’ 10-mile evacuation zone of an emergency, didn’t work. Those two were in Westchester.“
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