NY Gov. Cuomo Joins Calls to Retire Troubled Indian Point Nuclear Plant


Journalist Paul DeRienzo also discusses the history of New York’s decades old Indian Point Nuclear Plant which experienced a fire and oil leak over the weekend

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

A transformer at Indian Point nuclear power station caught fire on Saturday sending plumes of smoke up into the air, but not only. It is just 40 miles north of New York City. The operator says it supplies an estimated 25 percent of New York City’s and Westchester’s electricity. Of the 61 commercially-operated nuclear power plants in the U.S., Indian Point is located near the most densely populated city in the country. With us to discuss the recent accident, as well as ongoing issues with Indian Point and other nuclear power plants is Paul DeRienzo. He’s a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Villager and WhoWhatWhy.org, and Pacifica National Radio.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Paul.


PERIES: Paul, now, we are three days into this accident. Most media has moved on, it appears. But what can you tell us about the accident and the oil slick coating the Hudson River at the moment?

DERIENZO: It was a fire and an explosion at a transformer in the non-nuclear section of the plant. At least, that’s how it’s been described. About 300 feet from one of the two operating nuclear power generators, or nuclear reactors that are operating at Indian Point. And the fire was very difficult to put out. It took a lot of foam. There was a re-starting of the fire from the heat after they thought it was out, so they had to return and put it out again a second time.

Underneath the transformer was a moat that was supposed to gather up up to 80,000 gallons of the coolant oil, which is really not the oil that you think of in the form of diesel, but actually a mineral oil substance that’s used to cool these transformers, very large devices for stepping up or down the electrical, the electrical current. And that, some of that oil apparently has leaked into the Hudson River. The amount is not, I think the governor has said maybe 3,000 gallons. But it’s not for sure. And people saw what they called a sheen of oil on the water, and that was reported across the entire Hudson River. And that’s never good, that signifies damage to the environment and to the Hudson River watershed. So there was some concern about that.

And I think more of a concern, there was never really any direct threat as far as a radiation release. But there, this is the third time in eight years that we’ve had a major explosion and fire at a transformer. And in 2011, the last time that this happened, there was a leak of PCBs, which are called polychlorinated biphenols from the oil into the groundwater in Buchanan, New York, along the Hudson River where the plant is located. That’s never a good thing.

And the Governor was very–Governor Andrew Cuomo is very concerned that this, he’s an opponent of Indian Point, that this pattern of errors and accidents which seem to be quickening in pace over the years signifies that these plants are way too old and shouldn’t be [inaud.]

PERIES: Now Paul, this plant was built in 1962, I understand. And the owner and operator says that it is perfectly safe and that they have replaced and maintained old parts. Should we really be concerned here?

DERIENZO: Oh yeah, sure. It was–that’s when the license, the construction began after the license was approved in 1962. The plants were actually built in the 1970s. They’re a little bit over 40 years old. And they’re–at least one is beyond its license, and there’s some sort, it’s really unclear, some sort of extended license that’s going on. The other one is near, Indian Point 3 is near the end of its license and would have to be re-licensed if it was to operate.

And this is true of many American, United States nuclear power plants that were built in the 1970s. It was sort of the highlight or the golden age of commercial nuclear power plants. But after Three Mile Island and particularly after Chernobyl you’ve seen no new plants come online. I think one recently was completed, but it was in the pipeline years before.

The problem is nobody wants to live near one, and the biggest problem for Indian Point has been, it’s only 40 miles from New York City, the largest population, the largest concentration in the United States. So within 50 miles radius, which Fukushima, if you recognize–you know, the United States has advised Americans not to go within 50 miles of Fukushima. So that same 50-mile radius around Indian Point would have–.

PERIES: Would cover New York City. Now, I understand that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission carries out inspections and there are long–but this long length of time between them, which is one of the major concerns. What are the officials saying about this plant and its safety?

DERIENZO: Well, they–you know, on one level I don’t, I have no problems with the engineers and with the scientists and the people who work on these plants. I believe that they, in the bottom of their heart, want to do the best and want a plant the best they can. And they want to design and build them as best and as safely as they can.

But the problem is, the error–you’re not allowed much in the way of a margin of error here. The distinction between a level 4 accident and a level 2, which is what occurred this weekend, the lowest level of accident, and a level 2 and a level 1 is, you know, the difference between 80,000 gallons potentially of oil going into the river and a million people having to be evacuated. So you’re taking on a very dangerous circumstance with nuclear power. It’s something that when it, it may not go wrong, but if it does, boy you’re paying the price for a long, long time.

PERIES: So as someone who works on this issue, what needs to happen in terms of securing these sites, and Indian Point in particular? Should it be closed down?

DERIENZO: The governor of New York State, who is way to the right of me, is demanding that it be closed down. And I would agree with him on this issue. It’s way too close to New York City. And also, there’s an earthquake risk. They just discovered a new earthquake fault, two earthquake faults cross right near Indian Point. So the potential of an earthquake, which Indian Point is not prepared for in the same way California nuclear plants are, is a real potential problem there. You saw what happened with an earthquake in Fukushima. And the potential of a terrorist attack has always been in the back of people’s minds, despite the fact that it’s a four-foot-thick concrete containment vessel around these plants. We’ve seen what happens when an airplane is flown into a plant or a big enough bomb is floated next to a plant. With all their security, who knows what could happen.

So it’s way too close to a large city to be operated. We don’t see, really, there’s another plant, Oyster Creek has operated longer than any in America, over 40 years. It’s been extended to 2019, but it’ll be closed down then. I think it’s time to close down plants that are so close to large population centers.

PERIES: Paul, thank you so much for joining us today.

DERIENZO: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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