“The seepage has been slow, showing up only in trace amounts. But given enough time, we hope, measurable quantities of common sense may find their way through hairline cracks in the reinforced skulls of officials at Entergy Nuclear Northeast and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and they will realize that local leaders and a jittery public deserve complete, accurate and timely information about problems at the Indian Point nuclear plant.
The decision by Entergy and the commission to delay reporting a leak of radioactive water from a spent-fuel pool at Indian Point led to a predictable eruption of anger last week. Officials from Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer to county executives in Westchester and Rockland expressed dismay at having been left in the dark for three weeks about the problem, which was discovered during excavation work and still has not been fixed.
Entergy’s defense — that the leak is negligible and the danger nil — does not address the most pressing concern of local officials, including James Tuffey, the director of New York State’s Emergency Management Office. “At a time when the public is expecting the highest level of coordination between and among all levels of government and their agencies, this failure to share and coordinate this information is unacceptable,” he wrote in a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Mr. Tuffey put it perfectly. In this age of recurring catastrophe, it has become all too clear that the theoretical web of protection woven by emergency planners can reveal gaping holes when finally put into use. One need only recall the confusion on 9/11 and the collapse of order after Hurricane Katrina to realize that the best protection against chaos is free-flowing information, widely shared. The calculated silence about this recent leak shows that Entergy does not fully understand what it takes to win and retain public confidence.
Plans have flaws and technology is frail, as the failures in Indian Point’s seemingly bewitched system of warning sirens demonstrate. Entergy, beset by residents, politicians and advocacy groups that would close the plant in a heartbeat if they could, should see the advantages of scrupulous openness.
But its own efforts at disclosure carry the odor of public relations. Its web site, safesecurevital.org, which purports “to serve as a reliable source of information regarding our Indian Point Energy Center,” includes a heavily redacted assortment of news clippings called “Indian Point in the News,” with headlines like “Nuclear Power Vital to U.S.,” but not a word about, say, its ongoing struggle to get its siren system fixed.
We welcome the nuclear agency’s decision to look into the Indian Point leak and assess Entergy’s plan to fix it. But such efforts must be matched by a deeper commitment to public disclosure, particularly as Entergy takes on the tricky task of moving to a new storage system for its spent fuel. After the debacle of the unplugged leak, “the degree of confidence is certainly not improved,” said C. Scott Vanderhoef, the Rockland County executive, putting it quite mildly.”
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