Eleven thousand jobs created by a power plant. Eighteen million lives affected in the New York metro area by its demise. Those were the main numbers the protestors – of which there were many at Thursday night's – were throwing around.
The protestors were louder, or least more organized, than the pro-nuclear folks. They were also more colorful.
There were the Raging Grannies with their purposely frumpy clothes and song (a gimmick, admitted one, but anything to get the message heard).
Some Japanese people wore hazmat suits emblazoned with red nuclear symbols, a powerful reminder of the Fukushima disaster and the fact that Japan's gone fully non-nuclear since. As of two weeks ago, the country closed its last nuclear reactor.
staged a rally before the hearing in the back of the grand ballroom at the , with speakers ranging from Westchester Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (“Indian Point is an accident waiting to happen”) to Occupy Wall Streeters and a Columbia University seismologist. Riverkeeper had a few buses pick up some 70 folks from New York City, but many of the speakers said they lived within a few miles of the energy facility.
Their message again and again (and often chanted) was “shut it down, shut it down.” Their signs read Old and Dangerous or Unsafe, Unsecure, Fatal. They had buttons, pins, stickers, hats, yellow t-shirts.
Once the official forum began, public hearing fatigue can soon set in as the points made by speakers (two to three minutes each, though the rule was only sometimes enforced and other times caused friction) get repetitive and divisions become more divisive. There seemed no common ground between the anti- and the pro-, the safety-fearful and the economy-dedicated (their sign read “Save Union Jobs”).
Many speakers said this wasn't their first hearing; they'd been attending this annual assessment meeting for the last 10 years. Their frustration in feeling less heard and more misled through the years bubbled up into hissing, booing, and interrupting the pro-nuclear people.
County Legislator Michael Smith, who said he was personally supportive of the plant's license renewal but wanted to “raise the quality standards,” begged the hissers to give him the same courtesy he gave to them.
Despite the imbalance in noise-making, there were a fair amount of speakers on behalf of the plant. Marsha Gordon, President of Westchester Business Council, who praised the industry's importance in the region for keeping electricity costs down and people employed. Plant workers who said safety is their utmost priority. Mary Foster, Mayor of Peekskill, another person requesting a “cease and desist” on the rude reactions in the room, who supports the plant's operation but wants a better understanding of the emergency evacuation plan.
What emergency evacuation plan? Abinanti said there was no hope of evacuating the region if there were ever a meltdown. Just look at the traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge tonight, he said. “You can't even get out of White Plains."
Abinanti compared and contrasted our outdated bridge with the plant. One of the reasons cited for a bridge rebuild is the threat of an earthquake, but this is not a threat to a nuclear power plant?, he asked.
"Lose the bridge, and some cars go in the water. Lose the plant, and you lose millions," Abinanti said. Continuing on the car theme, he said, Indian Point “is an old car whose time has come.”
For their part, the representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who oversee how plant owner Entergy is performing, at the front table facing the crowd sat grim-faced, taking notes, occasionally answering the questions posed to them, but mostly having to stomach a lot of animosity. “Public health and safety is mission one for us,” Regional Director Bill Dean said.
From the NRC press release:
At the conclusion of last year, as assessed by the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process, there were no performance indicators for Indian Point Units 2 and 3 that were other than “Green” (very low risk) and no inspection findings that were “Greater than Green” (all findings were of very low safety significance). Therefore, for the rest of 2012, Indian Point Units 2 and 3 will receive the very detailed inspection regime used by the NRC for plants that are operating well.
Entergy officials remained in the hallway not the ballroom, fielding questions privately and explaining diagrams on poster board.
“Where is Entergy?” asked activist Mark Jacobs, one of the founders of Indian Point Safe Energy Coalation and a close neighbor to the facility. “Make a decision,” he urged the NRC, who got bashed that night from others as “whores of the industry” and cries of “you lie.”
“You will decide to relicense the plant,” Jacobs said. “We will stop it in the courts and in the streets. Then we'll shut it down.”