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Report Critical of Emergency Planning at New York State Nuclear Plants - 2003-01-11

A new, independent report charges that emergency planning at nuclear power plants in New York is inadequate to protect people from a disaster, including a terrorist attack. The findings call for changes to emergency response procedures at nuclear plants following the September 11 attacks.

The report warns that in a new and changing world, safety precautions at nuclear power plants that were considered sufficient in the past, "may now be in need of revision."

The 500-page document accuses emergency planners at New York's two active nuclear power plants at Indian Point of failing to take the necessary precautions to deal with a dangerous and sudden release of radiation.

The two Indian Point reactors are located 50 kilometers north of heavily populated New York City. The report is based on six-months of research by a firm headed by James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. The report is critical of FEMA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's [NRC] so-called functional approach.

Mr. Witt said the emergency planners focus on exercises rather than working directly with communities on safety and evacuation issues. We feel strongly that FEMA and the NRC needs to re-look at the regulations, particularly dealing with nuclear power plants around densely populated areas because things have changed since [the September 11, 2001 attacks] and we need to re-look at them," he said.

The report stems from a safety investigation commissioned by New York Governor George Pataki following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In a statement, Governor Pataki urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to "take a hard look at the standards used to certify emergency plans and determine if they are strong enough to meet the post-September 11 reality."

FEMA representatives did not return a request for comment. A spokesperson for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it will release its response after it has had a chance to thoroughly reviewed the report.

Following an evacuation drill by Indian Point workers late last year, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner told VOA that it is unnecessary to alter emergency plans to prepare specifically for a terrorist attacks because the effect of all disasters at nuclear power plants would be "very much the same."

Some local lawmakers and anti-nuclear activists have called for closing Indian Point. However the report does not recommend shutting down the plant.