Is the Indian Point Nuclear Plant Unsafe?

Thirty-five miles up the Hudson River outside of New York City sits the Indian Point Nuclear Power Facility. The two active nuclear reactors here were built in the 1970s and currently provide about 13% of the power used in New York City, with the remainder of the 2,000 megawatts generated here being used elsewhere in the state.

The state has recently become a hotbed of argument over whether the nuclear reactors — set to close in the next few years — should be decommissioned, or allowed to continue running. New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo strongly opposes the plant’s continuing operation, whereas the mighty Mayor Bloomberg of New York City backs the re-licensing of the plant wholeheartedly.

Interestingly, several recent news stories have highlighted both an explosion, and the forced shut down of the Indian Point plant on two occasions in the past few years. At one point in 2010, the state went without power from one of the reactors for 17-days. A similar story appeared in Bloomberg News, but has since been removed from their website.

Amidst the debate, the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School held an interesting forum this past Thursday with a cast of characters who had differing vested interests in the power plant’s future.

Indian Point Nuclear Power - Pros and Cons (2012 | sociecity)

Indian Point Nuclear Power - Pros and Cons (2012 | sociecity)

Paul Gallay, an Attorney and Director of Riverkeeper noted to the audience a seemingly overwhelming list of safety concerns, including projections should a Fukushima or Chernobyl type accident occur; the damages range from evacuating 5.6 million people, to 1.3 million possible cancer cases and evacuating everyone out to and including Manhattan. Galley maintains that the plant has largely ignored — or been granted government exemptions for — safety risks in the areas of fire, earthquake, and possible terrorist attacks.

It was built to handle a 5.0 earthquake… they don’t even consider the seismic risk a factor, despite 2 fault lines near the plant and a recently increased chance of a 7.0 or higher quake, Gallay remarks.

On the other side was Arthur J. Kremer, who candidly mentioned that we should “have a more objective and laid back look at what’s going on here.”

Among Kremer’s arguments were projections that renewable power will never grow fast enough to cover New York City’s power needs “you are playing Russian Roulette with the power requirements in New York City” he said. Increased carbon emissions was also a talking point from the opposition, as well as what is perhaps a very realistic view on New York energy efficiency, coming in the form of a statement that “no one’s going to turn their AC off during the hot summer” in order to reduce their energy footprint.

Everything from direct airplane impacts, to the plants 1,100 jobs were put on the table in the form. For all intents and purposes however, the debate regarding the Indian Point Plant seems to boil down to a relatively simple stew of opposing concerns: human and environmental safety vs. money and comfort.

Which will it turn out to be?

Patrick Lydon

Author:Patrick Lydon

Patrick is a research-based artist/writer working at the intersection of culture and ecology. His work prompts audiences to explore and re-think relationships between humans and nature in contemporary social and built environments. He is currently undertaking postgraduate study in the "Art, Space & Nature" programme at The University of Edinburgh and is Co-Director of FinalStraw.org, a documentary and active community dialogue about food, earth, and happiness.

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