WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) - A make-believe problem will develop
and quickly deteriorate Tuesday at the Indian Point 2 nuclear power
plant to test plant workers' reactions to a frightening threat -
and local officials' ability to protect people when things get out
of control.
The scenario, not to be announced in advance, is likely to be a
doozie, a runaway crisis that climaxes with a substantial release
of radioactivity into the air above New York City's northern
suburbs. It will all happen much faster than is likely under real
conditions, officials say.
Critics say the drill will be almost meaningless because it
won't address the threat of terrorism, there won't be any real
evacuations, the emergency plan covers only a 10-mile radius and
reporters won't be allowed to watch the action inside the nuclear
plant or at county-run emergency operations rooms.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a longtime critic of Westchester
County's evacuation plan, said Monday that the drill is "an
exercise in public relations."
"No one will be evacuated, no testing of the plan will take
place," he said. "What they'll do is they'll test the
communications and command structure - not a bad thing to do, but
it has nothing to do with whether this plan will actually save
lives in a real emergency."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission have sent dozens of overseers and will grade
the exercise. A plan acceptable to FEMA is a condition of Entergy
Corp.'s license to operate the plant.
The drill is meant to determine whether New York state and the
counties of Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Orange, each of which
is partly within 10 miles of the reactor, "have the trained
personnel and resources required to meet the challenges of a
radiological emergency," FEMA said in a statement issued last
week.
Indian Point 2's recent history has been pocked with problems
including a real, if small, release of radiation in 2000 and the
failure of four control room teams to pass a certification test in
2001.
Combined with the terror attack on the World Trade Center, 40
miles south, the plant's spotty record has brought closer-than-ever
scrutiny from regulators and the public. There is considerable
local sentiment for a shutdown of the plant and its twin, Indian
Point 3, which sit on the Hudson River in Buchanan.
Alex Matthiessen, executive director of the environmental group
Riverkeeper, said the exercise "is probably the most important
emergency planning drill in the history of New York State," but
anything officials say about the success of the exercise should be
treated skeptically.
"They're not confident, because if they were, they'd be
inviting you," he told reporters.
State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, the Democratic candidate for
governor, said Republican Gov. George Pataki "will undoubtedly
declare the simulation a success, despite the fact that the drill
will be conducted without the input of citizens and elected
officials who have pointed out real weaknesses."
Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said the NRC and FEMA would
announce a preliminary evaluation on Friday.
Susan Tolchin, chief adviser to Westchester County Executive
Andrew Spano, said reporters are excluded because, "If this were a
real emergency, the public and the press would not be allowed."
"We play this drill as if it were a true emergency," she said.
The crisis scenario, agreed upon by FEMA and the NRC, will be
imposed on the nuclear plant in the morning. Plant workers in a
mock control room will see things going bad without knowing the
cause, and complications will ensue.
When the problem gets bad enough, Entergy will notify local
officials, as is required in a real emergency, and the counties
will begin to implement their plans.
Sirens will not sound to notify the public and there will be no
marshaling of buses to evacuate schoolchildren. But the phone call
that would be made to sound the sirens will be made, and the bus
dispatchers who would be called in an emergency will be called. If
the scenario calls for a traffic problem to develop, a police
officer will go to the scene.
Steets said complete drills with evacuations are not required
because, "When you're talking about evacuations from homes and
businesses, for something that is extremely unlikely ever to
happen, it's hard to get people to want to do that just for
practice. The counties and the regulators have said to this point
that we have demonstrated the capability to evacuate if we need
to."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press