The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York


April 8, 2011

Accident concerns put towns in nuclear danger zone

Proposed 50-mile evacuation zone around Indian Point energy center.

Would the current plans to evacuate the areas surrounding Indian Point be sufficient to protect the population from radiation exposure in the event of a disaster at Indian Point, and would even these limited plans be feasible if such a catastrophe occurred in this highly congested region?

This week, Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, recommended all Americans within 50 miles of the Fukushima plant evacuate. Current plans only deal with a 10-mile evacuation around Indian Point in the event of a nuclear emergency.

“You can imagine my surprise when we heard the chairman of the NRC evacuate 50 miles,” said Anthony Sutton, Westchester County Commissioner of Emergency Services. “We were assured 10 miles was more than sufficient.”

Downtown Katonah is 17.5 miles from Indian Point. Bedford’s Village Green is 24.7 miles from the reactors in Buchanan, and Westchester Avenue and Trinity Pass in Pound Ridge are 30.4 miles from Entergy’s plants.

The Westchester County Board of Legislators Committee on Energy and the Environment, chaired by Mike Kaplowitz, and the Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Martin Rogowsky, sought to answer these questions at a meeting on April 4, with George Longworth, commissioner of Westchester County Department of Public Safety, and Anthony Sutton, Westchester County commissioner of emergency services, in light of the Japanese nuclear disaster.

Mr. Kaplowitz said evacuation was no longer hypothetical in light of the disaster in Japan. Mr. Kaplowitz said Mr. Jaczko’s recommendation was particularly worrisome in light of reports that the International Atomic Energy Agency measured levels of cesium 137 that exceeded the standard the Soviet Union used for abandoning the land surrounding the Chernobyl reactor in the village of Iiatate, located 25 miles from the damaged plant.

Mr. Sutton said that he could only speculate why Mr. Jaczko had made this decision. Mr. Sutton said that he has asked for clarification from the NRC whether 50 miles would be required here now. He said that there were some indications that 20 miles might be instituted.

“I am not the umpire,” Mr. Sutton said. “I am a team player. If the guidelines are changed, we will decide how to meet them.”

He also said that any changes would require lengthy study and he would not expect them to be instituted for some time. Mr. Kaplowitz asked if it were possible to evacuate a 50-mile radius tomorrow.

“Certainly not tomorrow,” Mr. Sutton said. “That changes the entire plan and moves our evacuation centers out.”

Mr. Sutton said that changing the plan would take more than two years.

How will families evacuate?

Legislator Peter Harckham said that he did not believe even the current 10-mile evacuation plan was feasible in this densely populated region, based on his personal experience trying to evacuate after Three Mile Island.

“Evacuating 1 million people in Westchester County is not going to work,” Mr. Harckham said. “I sat in traffic for five hours two days after Three Mile Island, in an area that had a population of 100,000 people.”

Mr. Kaplowitz also expressed concerns with the current evacuation plan. He said parents and children were supposed to evacuate to different locations, but that after 9/11 it was clear that the first thing parents would do is go to their children. He was also concerned that evacuation centers were immediately outside the 10-mile radius. He said that one school inside the 10-mile line in Chappaqua would be evacuated to another school in Chappaqua that was outside the line.

Mr. Sutton said that while it might seem questionable to move children so close to the 10-mile line, he looked at this as being conservative.

“We want to take the kids off of our action list,” Mr. Sutton said. “We want to say the kids are all right.”

Mr. Kaplowitz said that he thought that might require moving them farther.

Mr. Sutton said adults were kept separate from the children so they did not lose control of the schoolchildren. He said the schools adults would be sent to would be used as radiation monitoring and decontamination centers, and the schools the children would be sent to would not be. He also said there was only a 20 to 23 percent chance that the children would be in school during an event.

Kaplowitz seeks immediate zone expansion

As a result of the information obtained at this meeting and previous information sessions, on April 5, Mr. Kaplowitz announced legislation calling for a “New York exemption” to the current NRC and FEMA 10-mile evacuation zone and demanding an immediate 50-mile evacuation zone around Indian Point. Mr. Kaplowitz said this was not a judgment on nuclear power, but a necessity to assure public safety.

Mr. Kaplowitz said he hoped it would serve as an incentive for legislative change to direct regulatory change, and would be the beginning of many local and state officials pushing for rapid change.

He said when Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City realized that his drinking water was in peril of contamination, he is certain he would be supportive.

The NRC responded with a statement on Tuesday. “There is no basis at this point for expanding the 10-mile-radius emergency planning zone around U.S. nuclear power plants,” the NRC said. “This was based on research showing the most significant impacts of an accident would be expected in the immediate vicinity of a plant and therefore any initial protective actions, such as evacuations or sheltering in place, should be focused there.”

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