“Indian Point opponents disrupt NRC safety forum” by Greg Clary

Joe O’Brien, representing Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, reads a statement during the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s public briefing Thursday on the Indian Point safety assessment at the Colonial Terrace catering facility in Cortlandt. / Joe Larese/The Journal News

“CORTLANDT — More than 400 people turned out to hear about Indian Point‘s most recent safety record, but the opponent-dominated crowd not only wouldn’t listen to Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials, they forced the regulators to turn the format into a raucous question-and-answer session.

The NRC’s traveling road show, designed to go over Indian Point’s operation in 2010, almost shut down a few minutes into the agency’s presentation, when boisterous members of the overflow crowd at the Colonial Terrace catering hall shouted down the safety report details.

NRC officials told the crowd that Indian Point had operated in 2010 “in a manner that preserved public health and safety and met all cornerstone objectives.”

“Liars,” more than one audience member shouted. “Lap dogs.”

Karl Farrar, the agency’s moderator for the two-hour meeting, tried to control the shouting.

“This won’t work,” Farrar said. “If you don’t allow them to speak, you won’t be allowed to speak.”

A few minutes later, NRC officials said they would have to close the meeting and called for a five-minute break, coming back to say they would suspend their presentation and open up the floor to questions — or statements, based on what a string of speakers, projected to reach nearly 100 people, had to say to the regulators.

With the specter of the Japanese nuclear crisis on many people’s minds, the evening became a louder-than-usual battle between plant opponents and supporters.

Steve Greenfield, a school board member from Orange County, talked about security around the plant in an age where average people can buy military aircraft on the Internet.

Greenfield cited a March incident in which a podiatrist from Clermont, N.Y., crashed a military jet he was flying in the Hudson Valley and died in the accident.

“From a security perspective,” Greenfield said, “if a podiatrist from upstate New York can buy a supersonic fighter jet and … crash it into the Hudson River at any time that he so pleases, why do you feel comfortable that the plant itself is actually safe from external threat?”

NRC officials said the plant was safe and was built to withstand attacks, with security operations tested regularly.

The largest applause in the early part of the evening was for Rockland Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, who quoted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call to close the plant and reminded the audience that the Assembly had just adopted a nonbinding resolution to make license renewal of the plant be done as if the plant were new.

Indian Point officials have applied to extend its 40-year operating license by 20 years, and the NRC is looking at how the company can manage an aging plant in its review.

Relicensing criteria do not include emergency planning or earthquake potential, which the agency says is monitored continually.

“There is a crisis of confidence with your agency,” Jaffee told the regulators. “Relinquish your resistance to the findings of highly qualified and credentialed experts. … It’s your job to protect the public, not the industry.”

Members of the business community spoke in favor of the plant’s operation, which has received top marks from the NRC for seven consecutive years despite dealing with radiation leaks, emergency siren mishaps and continuing opposition well before Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi crisis galvanized new legions of opponents.

Jerry Connelly, a retired business manager from Boilermakers Local 5 who started working at Indian Point in 1968, turned the microphone around and addressed the audience.

“I support the relicensing,” Connelly said. “It is unfortunate that we live in a state that the elected officials are unwilling to tackle any kind of problem that we have. … We have some of the oldest (electricity) generating equipment in the United States, some the oldest transmission lines. Unless the state is willing to invest billions of dollars, we are going to have to use Indian Point.””

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