Indian Point Nuclear Evacuation Plan ‘Impossible’ Lawmakers Say

Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point nuclear plant north of Manhattan would have to close if the U.S. required a plan to evacuate 20 million people within 50 miles, two U.S. lawmakers said after touring the plant with the chief nuclear regulator.

Entergy, the second-largest operator of U.S. nuclear power plants after Chicago-based Exelon Corp., is seeking 20-year extensions of licenses that expire in 2013 and 2015 for two reactors at the site. The renewals would be rejected if New Orleans-based Entergy had to submit an evacuation plan that includes residents of Manhattan, 35 miles (56 kilometers) away, said Representative Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat.

“When this plant was built, you didn’t have 20 million people within a 50-mile radius,” Lowey said. “To evacuate people from Westchester, Rockland, people from New York City, east and west, is, in many of our judgments, an impossible task.”

The evacuation plan for Indian Point covers a 10-mile radius. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended that Americans within 50 miles of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant evacuate after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami that set off explosions and the release of radiation.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who toured the plant with Lowey and Representative Eliot Engel, also a New York Democrat, said the 10-mile zone could be extended under certain circumstances. An internal NRC task force is reviewing the events in Japan.

‘Some Changes’

“I expect that they’ll be some changes to our requirements coming out of that,” Jaczko said. “The decisions ultimately about what we would do in the event of an accident are based ultimately on what information we would get if there were, even in the very unlikely event, to be an accident. If we needed to take action beyond 10 miles, that’s certainly what we would be recommending.”

Eight years before Japan’s catastrophe, the evacuation plan for Indian Point -- which combines procedures developed by Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Putnam counties -- was deemed inadequate to safeguard residents in a state-funded study by a firm run by James Lee Witt, former director of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The first reactor at the plant in Buchanan, New York, opened in 1962.

“If Buchanan, New York, was being considered as the site of a new power plant today, it would be unequivocally rejected,” Engel said. “The citizens that live around this power plant should not be stuck with it or saddled with it because of something that happened 40 years ago.”