N.Y., April 23 It would have been a moment for the cameras, if
only enough had shown up. As a flotilla of boats lined up here on
the Hudson River in September 1997, the demonstrators aboard
unfurled a bright yellow cloth emblazoned with "Crime Scene" in
black marker in front of the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
But the world was mourning the death of Diana, princess of Wales,
and almost no one other than the most committed of opponents gave
much thought to the hulking nuclear plant on the Hudson. So the
publicity effort organized by environmental and antinuclear groups
went largely unnoticed.
How things have changed. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,
growing anxiety over the safety of nuclear power plants has
transformed Indian Point from a fringe issue that only antinuclear
crusaders care about to a mainstream concern, and not just for
Westchester suburbanites, but for New York City and New Jersey
residents, who had, until now, barely registered the plant's
existence 40 miles north of Midtown Manhattan.
This month alone, a headline in The New York Observer asked,
"Chernobyl-on-Hudson?" In Bergen County, N.J., The Record published
an article with the headline "Generating Fear: Indian Point Casts
Nuclear Shadow Over North Jersey."
The news media scrutiny reflects probably the biggest groundswell
of opposition to Indian Point since its two working reactors started
generating nuclear power in the 1970's, and one that has a growing
number of residents calling for the plant's closing. Some 20 million
people live within 50 miles of the plant, putting it near more
people than any other nuclear plant in the country.
The evacuation plan for the plant covers a 10-mile radius from
the plant, but the federal government also has emergency readiness
plans for a 50-mile "ingestion plume pathway" that includes New York
"On Sept. 11, my whole sense of safety and security went down
with the World Trade Center," said Maureen Ritter, 44, who lives in
Suffern, N.Y., exactly 12.3 miles on the other side of the Hudson
from the plant. She knows because she recently calculated the
distance on a map.
"Once you open your eyes, you can't shut them," Ms. Ritter said.
"Believe me, I want to go back to finding matching socks for my
children to wear in the morning, but I can't turn back."
So Ms. Ritter and many others have taken a stand against Indian
Point. More than a dozen grass roots groups in Westchester, Rockland
and New York City are opposing the plant.
A Web site for the New York City Campaign to Close Indian Point
(nyccloseindianpoint.org) lists forums in churches in Greenwich
Village, the South Bronx, and Park Slope in Brooklyn, and asks
visitors to fill out an online petition.
These community groups have banded together with environmental
and civic organizations as the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition to
work toward the goal of decommissioning the plant. Riverkeeper, an
environmental group best known for protecting the Hudson, has led
the fight by raising $100,000 in donations, including about $25,000
from Rockefeller family members and foundations.
It has also released a Marist Institute poll that showed that the
majority of respondents who live within 50 miles of the plant want
it shut down.
Alex Matthiessen, executive director of Riverkeeper, said that
since Sept. 11, his staff had received dozens of calls and letters
from people who were concerned about the vulnerability of Indian
Point's nuclear operations. Riverkeeper decided to respond. In the
past, the group had mainly criticized Indian Point for killing fish
in the Hudson. "This has not been a movement driven by antinuclear
groups," he said.
A growing number of local and state politicians have also joined
the movement to close Indian Point, including Representative Nita M.
Lowey and the two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Andrew M.
Cuomo and State Comptroller H. Carl McCall. Many others have voiced
concerns about the plant. Gov. George E. Pataki, who grew up in
Peekskill, just north of the plant, has not called for Indian Point
to be closed, but has asked the federal government to reassess
emergency guidelines for the plant.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is sponsoring a bill that would
tighten security at Indian Point and other plants, expand the
evacuation area, and stockpile potassium iodide tablets to protect
residents from radiation-induced thyroid cancer. She visited Indian
Point for the first time after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I think it certainly makes it very clear to me that building a
plant in such a highly populated area raises serious issues," she
Indian Point's owner, the Entergy
Corporation, has countered with a multimillion-dollar
advertising campaign in newspapers and radio that is intended to
reassure the public. It has dropped the word "nuclear" from its
name. Entergy made that change on Sept. 6, after buying the reactors
from separate owners and uniting the work forces. Now the message
is: "Indian Point Energy Center. Safe. Secure. Vital."
Indian Point workers themselves have rallied against what they
call the "campaign of misinformation" and "fear-mongering" by
nuclear opponents. Mark Williams, a union coordinator for 600
workers at the plant, said they should know better than anyone if
the plant is safe.
"It's very frustrating, because we work there," he said. "They
tend to make us out as ignorant canaries going into the mines. In
reality, we're a well-educated, highly trained, professional work
For years, antinuclear groups and others have railed against
Indian Point's safety lapses, including a February 2000 radioactive
leak that forced the Indian Point 2 reactor to shut down for nearly
a year. As a result, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission heightened
its scrutiny of Indian Point 2, and assigned it the worst
performance rating of any reactor in the nation. (By contrast, the
Indian Point 3 reactor is one of 73 plants that have the top
But it was only after Sept. 11, when one of the planes that hit
the World Trade Center flew along the Hudson almost directly above
the plant, that the potential dangers of Indian Point became real
for most people.
The specter of a plane crashing into Indian Point sent shivers
through sleepy enclaves up and down the Hudson, and gave anxious New
York City residents and others something else to worry about. Even
those who had never given much thought to Indian Point became openly
fearful after diagrams of American nuclear plants were discovered in
Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan.
Allegra Dengler, a Dobbs Ferry trustee, said that once she
started learning about Indian Point, she became concerned about not
only terrorism, but also the effects of low-level radiation and
other problems. Now her aim is closing Indian Point, even if that
increases the price of electricity.
"People always care when their bills go up," she said. "But you
have to weigh that against the risks."
Ellen Wang, 27, who lives on the Upper West Side, said she
downloaded a flier from the New York City Campaign to Close Indian
Point Web site that listed the top 10 reasons. No. 1 was "It's too
She posted the flier on her bedroom door. "I don't worry about it
all the time," she said. "But when I do, I get scared. It could be
worse than Sept. 11."