Press Releases

“PROTECTING RESIDENTS DEEMED NOT URGENT BY FEDERAL AGENCY”

RIVERKEEPER PRESS RELEASE

5.20.05

PROTECTING RESIDENTS DEEMED NOT URGENT BY FEDERAL AGENCY

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Rejects Petition
Calling for Backup Power to Emergency Sirens

Garrison, NY   Today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rejected a
public petition that would require all nuclear utilities to equip emergency
notification systems with backup power sources independent from the
electrical grid, so that in the event of an accident or an act of terrorism
accompanied by a loss of power the public can still be promptly notified of
a radiological emergency.  Hiding behind bureaucratic red tape, the NRC –
charged with protecting public health and safety – noted that the petition
was filed improperly, since the lack of backup power to emergency sirens
does not meet the criteria for an Emergency Enforcement Petition.  Instead,
the NRC argues that the request should go through the NRC’s “petition for
rulemaking,” a process typically involving two years of deliberations.

Grid failures routinely cause a loss of power to community alerting systems
around nuclear power stations as the result of lightning, hurricanes, ice
storms, earthquakes and mechanical failures in the electricity distribution
system. The 2.206 petition was filed on February 23, 2005 by Riverkeeper,
the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, New York county legislators, and
national nuclear watchdog groups.

The Indian Point nuclear power plant, located 24 miles north of New York
City does not have backup power for its emergency sirens.  In the event of a
radiological emergency at Indian Point, coupled with a loss of electrical
power, over 300,000 residents would have to learn of the emergency via first
responders with bull horns.

“Once again, we see the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put Entergy’s profits
over public health and safety,” said Alex Matthiessen, executive director of
Riverkeeper, the Putnam-based environmental group leading the campaign to
close Indian Point. “In dismissing the urgent nature of our request, and
suggesting we instead petition for a rulemaking, the NRC has effectively put
off taking obvious and inexpensive cautionary measures that would protect
the public for a minimum of two years. That is unacceptable. It’s about time
Congress took note of the NRC’s wanton disregard for public health and
safety and begin investigating this agency’s total abrogation of duty and
abuse of power,” Matthiessen concluded.

Indian Point is one of many nuclear power plants across the country that are
not equipped to notify neighboring communities via emergency sirens in the
event of a radiological emergency and simultaneous loss of power.  According
to the NRC, only 27% of the nation’s 62 nuclear power emergency planning
zones are capable of fully operating their emergency sirens systems
independent of the main power lines. 40% rely solely on electricity from the
grid, while the remaining 33% have an unspecified combination of sirens with
and without backup power.

“The NRC is allowing nuclear plant operators to give the appearance that
they are protecting the public, without any real guarantees,” said
Westchester County Legislator Tom Abinanti (D, Greenburgh), chair of the
Legislature’s Environment Committee.  “What good is an emergency warning
system that isn’t guaranteed to work?”

The petitioners requested that the sirens be provided with chargeable
battery backup systems, preferably through photovoltaic solar powered arrays
so as to assure siren operation for the duration of any emergency.
Michigan’s Donald C. Cook nuclear power plant, owned by American Electric
Power, has emergency sirens with photovoltaics, and Pacific Gas & Electric
recently began replacing its sirens with battery backup systems at its
Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California.  Yet, while other nuclear
plant operators across the country have voluntarily chosen to improve their
ability to protect public health and safety, Entergy spokeswoman Charlene
Faison – representing the owner/operator of Indian Point – stated during a
petition review board hearing with the NRC last month, “We [Entergy] are not
in agreement with this petition, for the record.”

“Not having a backup system for the sirens simply defies common sense,” said
County Legislator Michael B. Kaplowitz (D, Somers), who chairs the
Legislature’s Committee on Budget & Appropriations.  “The very time you need
to rely on the sirens is a time when you can’t rely on 911 and other
emergency services.  Given that fact, along with the fact that the
technology is out there and Entergy certainly has the financial wherewithal
to ascertain such a system, not doing so is potentially imperiling the very
residents they claim are ‘secure.'”  Kaplowitz, the long-time leader in the
fight to close Indian Point, also noted that it shouldn’t take an NRC
mandate for Entergy to employ this common sense safety measure at the Indian
Point site.

Rockland County Legislator Ellen Jaffee raised specific concerns about her
county’s residents, “Rockland County already suffers from a lack of radio
and television coverage.  Compound this with a loss of power to the sirens
and there is no way to notify the public and our volunteer first responders
of an Indian Point emergency.”

A copy of the NRC’s 05/18/2005 Director’s Decision is available upon
request.

To view the February 23, 2005 Emergency Enforcement Petition and a list of
known nuclear power stations with emergency planning zone siren failures go
to:

http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/emergency/ep2206petitionsirens02232005.pdf

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