July 29, 2005 -Tarrytown, NY - Today, Riverkeeper commends Entergy management for finally agreeing to install back-up power to all 156 emergency sirens needed to alert over 300,000 residents of an emergency at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, but the late decision calls into question the corporation’s commitment to public health and safety.
“It is a relief to see Entergy, at least in this one instance, finally put public health and safety above rhetoric and its bottom line,” stated Alex Matthiessen, President of the Tarrytown-based environmental organization Riverkeeper. It is disappointing, however, that it took two major power outages – and clear evidence that the sirens would fail to notify the public in an emergency – for the company to reach this decision.”
Entergy’s announcement comes on the heels of two recent power outages to the emergency sirens. The first occurred on July 19th, when inclement weather disabled all 156 warning sirens at Indian Point for about six hours. Hours passed before workers at the plant noticed that the sirens remained inoperable after both a battery and diesel generator ran out of power. On July 27th, a second power outage again disabled 20 sirens for several hours. The sirens also lost power during the 2003 blackout across the Northeast.
Matthiessen continued, “Entergy has known for quite some time that lack of back-up power to the sirens poses a threat to public safety. This February, Riverkeeper and a coalition of elected officials and watchdog groups petitioned the NRC to require back-up power to emergency sirens at all U.S. nuclear power plants. Entergy publicly objected to our petition and now – under intense scrutiny and pressure – they’ve done an about-face. It is troubling that it took this much effort by political leaders and concerned citizens to force Entergy to do something so basic to emergency planning and public safety.”
According to Riverkeeper, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also failed in its charge to protect public health and safety. In May, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rejected the 2.206 petition on bureaucratic grounds, noting that the petition was filed improperly, since the lack of back-up power to emergency sirens does not meet the criteria for an Emergency Enforcement Petition. Instead, the NRC argued that the request should go through the NRC’s “petition for rulemaking,” a process that typically takes more than two years to adopt, assuming the industry doesn’t succeed in derailing it. In July, the NRC rejected the petitioners’ request for a reversal decision. This decision prompted Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to insert, as a provision in the Nuclear Security Act of 2005, an amendment that would require Entergy to install backup power to the emergency sirens within 18 months of the bill’s passage.
Matthiessen concluded, “What we have in the current NRC is a federal agency that refuses to regulate and take immediate action on issues directly related to protecting the public from potential radiological emergencies. That a nuclear power company has now chosen to take action on its own to protect the population – against the NRC’s ruling – speaks volumes to the ineffectual and negligent conduct of this agency.”
Riverkeeper is a member-supported, not-for-profit environmental organization dedicated to safeguarding the ecological integrity of the Hudson River and the watershed areas that provide drinking water to New York City and parts of four upstate counties. For more information, see www.riverkeeper.org.