NEW YORK - September 8 - A study released today finds that the potential health consequences of a successful terrorist attack on the Indian Point nuclear plant could cause as many as 518,000 long-term deaths from cancer and as many as 44,000 near-term deaths from acute radiation poisoning, depending on weather conditions. The study was commissioned by Riverkeeper, a Hudson River-based environmental group. Dr. Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, authored the report entitled "Chernobyl-on-the-Hudson?: The Health and Economic Impacts of a Terrorist Attack at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant."
Dr. Lyman performed the calculations in the study with the same computer models and methodology used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy to analyze the health and economic impacts of radiological accidents. The study updates a 1982 congressional report based on Sandia National Laboratories' CRAC-2 (Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences) study. CRAC-2 found that a core meltdown and consequent radiological release at one of the two operating Indian Point reactors could cause 50,000 early fatalities from acute radiation syndrome and 14,000 latent fatalities from cancer.
Dr. Lyman's report found that the potential for early deaths - 44,000 cases - is comparable to the 1982 CRAC-2 estimate and the peak number of latent cancer fatalities - 518,000 cases - is over 35 times greater than the CRAC-2 estimate, corresponding to a scenario where weather conditions maximize the rain-related fallout of radioactivity over New York City.
"The study's findings confirm what Riverkeeper and hundreds of the region's elected officials have said all along: Indian Point poses an unacceptable risk to the 20 million people - including all New York City residents - who live and work in the New York metropolitan area," said Alex Matthiessen, Riverkeeper's executive director. "The time for our elected officials to take their heads out of the sand has passed. Federal and state officials are effectively shielding the nuclear industry from what has become an obvious new reality since 9/11: nuclear plants are sitting ducks and need substantially more security than is currently required - none more than Indian Point which lies just 24 miles up the Hudson from New York City. The time has come for the government to move immediately to impose stringent security measures for Indian Point and begin planning for the plant's early retirement."
"The data clearly show that a terrorist attack at Indian Point could have a catastrophic impact on the health of New York City residents, yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not require the development of emergency plans to protect this vulnerable population," said Dr. Lyman. "A thorough and honest evaluation of the feasibility and effectiveness of protective actions such as sheltering, evacuation and administration of potassium iodide is badly needed for individuals living far beyond the 10-mile emergency planning zone around Indian Point."
The prospect of a terrorist attack at the Indian Point nuclear power plant has been a source of great concern for residents and elected officials of the New York metropolitan area since the al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001 - particularly since one of the hi-jacked planes flew over Indian Point on its way to NYC. The recently released 9/11 Commission Report revealed that Mohammed Atta, the plot's ringleader who piloted one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center, "considered targeting a nuclear facility he had seen during familiarization flights near New York." Given that the reconnaissance flight paths used by the terrorists included the Hudson River corridor and that the next closest nuclear facility to New York City is over 70 miles away, the plant in question was almost certainly Indian Point.
Although the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has recently required marginal security enhancements at Indian Point and other U.S. nuclear power plants, the plants remain highly vulnerable to air and water-based attacks as well as to ground assaults by large and sophisticated terrorist teams with paramilitary training and advanced weaponry. Of special concern is the vulnerability of facilities that contain equipment vital for safe plant operation, yet are insufficiently hardened against attack.
The poorly protected spent fuel pools at Indian Point are another source of great risk to the New York area. As alarming as the results of Dr. Lyman's study are, they do not include the consequences of an attack that would damage the spent fuel pools as well
as the reactors.
Among the report's key findings are:
- Up to 44,000 near-term deaths from acute radiation poisoning could occur in the unlikely event of a complete evacuation of the 10-mile radius zone covered by current emergency plans. This number could be even higher for more realistic evacuation scenarios. These deaths could occur among people living as far as 60 miles downwind of Indian Point.
- Up to 518,000 people could eventually die from cancer within 50 miles of Indian Point as a result of radiation exposures received within seven days of the attack.
- Hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars of economic damages could befall the New York City metropolitan area, leveling a major blow to U.S. and world economic stability.
- Millions of survivors could be permanently displaced because of extensive radiological contamination of their property.