WASHINGTON—Emergency preparedness plans for commercial nuclear power plants have been developed based on scientific studies and are exercised regularly to protect nuclear power plant workers and residents near the nation’s 103 reactors, an industry leader said in testimony prepared for the U.S. House of Representatives.
The emergency plans developed specifically for the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y., would protect residents near the plant even in the unlikely event of a terrorist attack on the facility, Joe F. Colvin, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s president and chief executive officer, wrote in testimony submitted to the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management. The congressional committee held a hearing today on security and emergency planning at the Indian Point Energy Center, which produces 20-40 percent of the electricity used in the New York City metropolitan area.
“The nuclear industry’s emergency preparedness programs are the gold standard worldwide, tested and proven for over 20 years,” Colvin stated. “Emergency plans are approved by the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission and are coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They are fully tested every two years.”
Entergy Corp. and state and local officials participated in a formal exercise at the Indian Point Energy Center last September. In its evaluation of the exercise released by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency on Feb. 21, the agency said, “(S)tate and local organizations, except where noted in this report, satisfactorily demonstrated knowledge of their emergency response plans and procedures and adequately implemented them.” FEMA found no deficiencies during the day-long exercise.
Despite decades of participation in emergency planning and the successful Sept. 24, 2002, exercise, the state of New York and the four counties that participate in the Indian Point Energy Center plan are acting irresponsibly in withholding their “letters of agreement” to FEMA. These letters include a checklist of emergency plan requirements that the counties must certify to determine the availability of resources needed by the counties in the event of an incident at the plant.
“Nuclear plant emergency plans have been effective in frequent exercises with local and state officials and emergency responders as well as in actual implementation after events such as hurricanes, chemical spills and other events,” Colvin said. “Local and state government involvement in these plans is essential to their success. Based on the success of the Sept. 24 exercise at Indian Point Energy Center, the counties nearby the plant should provide their letters of agreement to New York Gov. George Pataki and work with Entergy and other local government entities to correct any shortcoming in the plan.”
Members of the subcommittee will also discuss a review of emergency preparedness at Indian Point Energy Center conducted by James Lee Witt Associates for Gov. Pataki. In comments filed to Witt Associates earlier this month, NEI said the draft report of the review raised many concerns that the industry believes are based upon incomplete or inaccurate information. While Witt Associates reviewed the overall emergency plans, it did not review all of the detailed procedures that Entergy uses to implement its broad-based emergency plans.
“Entergy was not provided a significant amount of time for providing input to that report,” Colvin wrote. “There are many factual errors in the report that could have been prevented had the authors of the report more extensively reviewed the emergency response plan and detailed implementing procedures at that facility.”
The Witt draft report identifies several areas of emergency planning that the industry will review as part of its ongoing comprehensive security and emergency planning program review. These issues include: public education of emergency response plans, coordination of government and industry responses to an emergency, notification to the public in the event of an emergency, and response management.
Many facets of the emergency plan that have been developed and exercised by the Indian Point Energy Center staff and local and state officials contradict the findings of Witt Associates’ draft report. In fact, NRC Chairman Richard Meserve, in a letter dated Feb. 12, 2003, wrote that Indian Point’s emergency plan is designed to cope “with a spectrum of accidents, including those involving rapid, large releases of radiation.”
Nuclear power plants were the nation’s most secure industrial facilities before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In subsequent months, nuclear plant security has been reinforced significantly. Among the measures taken include an increase of one-third in the private security forces at our nation’s nuclear power plants to more than 7,000 officers. Steps have been taken to strengthen vehicle barriers, enhance surveillance, further restrict site access, and improve coordination with law enforcement and military authorities. Overall, the industry has invested more than $370 million in security-related improvements at 65 sites since September 2001.
The Bush Administration, in its recent report “The National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets,” said nuclear power plants are “among the most physically hardened structures in the country. The security at nuclear power plants has been enhanced significantly in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. In addition to these augmented security measures, all nuclear power plants have robust security and emergency response plans in place to further assure public health and safety in the unlikely event of a malicious act and/or radioactive release.”
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.