“WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The owner of the Indian Point nuclear power plants has agreed to replace their troublesome emergency sirens with a completely new system — including reliable backup power — by the end of next January, officials said Thursday.
The backup power, which would keep the sirens operational during a blackout, is a new federal requirement, pushed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and aimed solely at the two Indian Point plants in Buchanan, on the Hudson River 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan.
On Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a draft order to the plants’ owner, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, imposing a Jan. 30, 2007, deadline for implementing the new law.
Clinton, D-N.Y., said she hoped Entergy would “act quickly to confirm the order and put backup power in place as soon as possible.”
“It is just common sense that the Indian Point sirens should operate in the event of a blackout,” she said.
Actually, Entergy is going beyond the order, spokesman Jim Steets said. After deciding that backup power would be impractical for its 156 rotating, mechanically operated sirens, it has promised to replace the system with all-electronic sirens, each with its own backup battery. It expects to spend several million dollars on the system, Steets said.
“Entergy has committed to both meet and exceed expectations when it comes to public safety,” said Michael Slobodien, director of emergency programs for Entergy.
The sirens, which are designed to alert residents within 10 miles of the plants to an emergency, have been unreliable in recent tests. In one October test, 10 of the 16 sirens in Orange County failed to go off, and in a September test, none of Rockland’s 51 sirens responded. Performance was better, but not perfect, in November.
Steets said the new system “will be much more reliable.”
He said Entergy would not oppose the NRC’s draft order but might offer some comments before its final form is adopted at the end of this month. He praised the commission for consulting with Entergy about a “reasonable timetable.”
Besides the Jan. 30, 2007, deadline for completion, the order imposes a May 1, 2006, design deadline and insists on a June 30, 2006, progress report.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the federal law made backup power mandatory but “didn’t provide a road map of how to get there.”
“That was for us to carry out,” he said. “We held a public meeting in November, and we got some realistic information from Entergy about when they could implement this new system.
“We could have given them six months, but if it’s not realistic, what’s the point?”
According to the order, the sirens’ backup batteries must be able to keep the sirens available for 24 hours after any loss of power and to sound them for 15 minutes if necessary during an outage.“
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