The Indian Point nuclear power plant, nestled on the banks of the Hudson River just 35 miles north of Manhattan, poses “a danger to millions of New Yorkers,” according to a New York City councilman who joined 18 colleagues to take legal action in hopes of changing safety regulations at the controversial facility.
Daniel Garodnick and the other council members filed an amicus brief this week in support of Assemblyman Richard Brodsky’s appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, joining a growing chorus of New York elected officials -- including Governor Andrew Cuomo -- calling for the plant to institute sweeping safety changes or close outright.
“Indian Point is closer to New York than any other nuclear facility is to any other major U.S. city,” said Garodnick, who represents portions of Manhattan. “Any sort of accident or terrorist attack there would be a danger to millions of New Yorkers.”
Federal officials have steadfastly insisted that Indian Point is safe.
At the heart of the current debate about Indian Point’s safety -- an argument renewed by a fire in May that did little damage, but sent plumes of black smoke above the Hudson -- are a series of exemptions to the national atomic safety code granted to the facility by the Nuclear Regular Commission.
Since 1979, facilities across the U.S. are mandated to install wrapping around cables that provide power to safe-shutdown mechanisms that can last up to an hour in a fire. But in 2007, Indian Point was granted an exemption and its wrapping is required to only last 24 minutes.
“Twenty-four minutes is not a lot of time,” said Garodnick. “This is not the place to cut corners.”
A spokeswoman for the NRC said that the exemption was granted only after Indian Point delivered a technical report that displayed adequate alternate safeguards.
“We believe that the facility, no matter if granted certain exemptions, completely adheres to our strict safety requirements,” said Diane Screnci, a NRC spokeswoman.
Officials at Entergy, which operates Indian Point, also noted that $1 billion has been invested in safety enhancements over the last decade. Spokesman Jerry Nappi said Wednesday that the “wrapping is also regularly inspected to ensure it would perform its intended function in the unlikely event of a fire.”
The next round of legal briefs in the appeal is due Dec. 15. But that is not the only challenge to the plant, which is currently applying to the NRC for a 20-year extension on its original 40-year operating license.
The process has been challenged by Cuomo’s administration. Citing the plant’s proximity to New York City, the governor has repeatedly said he wants Indian Point closed due to the risks posed by an accident or attack.
“Questions of safety and evacuation of New York City are highly problematic,” Cuomo said.
There is no set timetable for the license renewal, though it could last more than a year. The next public hearing on Indian Point’s future is set for November.