In response to news reports from Japan about radiation contamination caused by the compromised Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, elected officials on the East End are calling for change.
With the aging Millstone II nuclear power plant in Waterford, Conn. within a 50-mile radius of the East End, local officials are calling on the federal government to extend the current radius for emergency evacuation planning.
Suffolk County Legislator sent a letter in March to and others, urging an expansion of the current federally required 10-mile radius from nuclear facilities for developing evacuation plans. Schneiderman believes the radius should be a minimum of 25 miles, based on recent events. The United States government, he added, urged U.S. citizens within a 50-mile radius to evacuate the area in Japan – and said similar mandates should exist on United States soil.
“If one lesson can be clearly learned from the nuclear incident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, it is that the current U.S. requirement of evacuation planning within 10 miles of a nuclear facility is woefully inadequate,” Schneiderman wrote in his letter to federal officials. “A 25-mile radius from the Millstone facility would include the entire town of East Hampton, Shelter Island, Southold, the village of Sag Harbor, North Haven, Greenport and large areas of Southampton Town. Currently, no evacuation plans exist for these areas in the event of a nuclear disaster be it accidental, through a natural disaster, or from an act of terrorism.”
To that end, state Assemblyman Fred Thiele and state Sen. Ken Lavalle have sponsored legislation requiring New York to review existing disaster preparedness plans for all nuclear plants in the state and within 50 miles of the state.
The legislation would call for a feasibility determination of evacuation around Millstone and Indian Point.
“For years, elected officials on the East End of Long Island have complained that disaster preparedness plans for the Millstone Nuclear Power Station did not adequately protect the public safety of the East End because evacuation plans were only required for areas within 10 miles of the plant,” Thiele said. “After the experience with the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan, it is clear that greater emergency planning is required. If evacuation plans are inadequate they must be improved and if evacuation is not feasible they should be closed.”
Southampton resident Tip Brolin, who heads up the town’s green sustainability committee, and is an expert on nuclear issues, said he is not threatened. “If something like what happened in Japan happened here, there would be a potential problem due to the radiation. But I actually don’t think Millstone poses a significant threat to the population. I think what we’re faced with is if a nuclear plant is operated properly then they don’t pose a risk to the public.”
He added he doesn’t believe there is a need to expand evacuation zones “but if local government want to do so, they can.”
Not everyone agrees. Locally, activists have been mobilizing for change, with celebrities including Christie Brinkley and Alec Baldwin putting a public face on what they perceive as a very real threat posed by Millstone.
Karl Grossman, an author who has written extensively on the threat of nuclear disaster and who has given lectures locally on the subject, said if the U.S. government is telling residents to evacuate 50 miles away from Fukushima, the same warning should apply locally.
“If you look at Millstone, a 50-mile radius would take in all the East End of Long Island and a portion of Brookhaven.”
“Reality is staring us in the face because of Japan,” Grossman said. Millstone could well be the site of “a catastrophic accident. That’s an accident waiting to happen. Millstone is a troubled nuclear plan.”
Grossman said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Millstone an extension of its operating license to 60 years – such plants are only supposed to operate for 40 years, with metals getting brittle, and because radioactivity damages components, he said.
“Imagine driving a car that was 60 years old – you wouldn’t feel very confident. And now the NRC is talking about 80 years. It’s unbelievable.”
And, Grossman added, “A catastrophic Millstone accident can happen here. And if it happened, eastern Long Island would be enveloped.”
Millstone Power Station spokesman Ken Holt said such fears are unfounded. He explained that when the plants were originally designed, they were created with “worst case scenarios” in mind.
“They looked at historically the worst hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes – and designed the plants to meet not only the historically worst case scenarios but to go even beyond that.”
Improvements have been made at the plant after learning from other disasters such as Three Mile Island, Holt said. “Watching Japan, there will be improvements made to reactors. We are watching and we are trying to learn what we can from an event so we can make whatever improvement we need to maintain public health and safety at Millstone.”
A team is in place to review emergency procedures and equipment, he added, and to be sure the facility “can meet its requirements, not only in an emergency, but beyond.”
And, Holt added, plants were never meant to have merely 40-year lifespans. In order to extend the license of a plant, an extensive review is required, with proof needed that “reactors aren’t getting brittle and that improvements have been made,” Holt said. “It’s not like going to DMV and getting your license renewed. It’s an intensive process with a lot of engineering and analysis work” that takes many years before approval is granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“It’s not like some rubber stamp,” he added.
And, Holt pointed out, Millstone is integral in energy production. “We produce the equivalent of 50 percent of the energy Connecticut needs and we do that in a carbon free manner. We don’t release any greenhouse gases and are environmentally safe.”
East End residents argue that no energy benefits are seen in New York – but the dangers are real. Montauk resident Priscilla Star has organized the Standing for Truth About Radiation Coalition to get various groups together under a single umbrella to galvanize for an extended evacuation zone.
“I’m trying to form a coalition where all the groups already involved with trying to help our situation collectively can be a part of one demographic voice. That is my mission,” Star said, adding that the 50-mile evacuation zone is critical. Should disaster strike, Star said, “We are downwind of Millstone. We have no way out.”