Nuclear Safety on the Hudson: Criticism of Riverkeeper’s Campaign to Close Down Indian Point

On April 1st, 2009 the Supreme Court ruled against forcing the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, New York to build new tower cooling facilities on the Hudson River. This decision came at a time when alternate uses of energy are being touted and marketed to the public as another surefire way to relieve our dependency on oil.  The ruling though was passed not so much as an environmental issue, but as a monetary one. Due to the state of the failing economy the court has ruled that federal regulators can take into account the over-all cost of installing new towers as opposed to the cost of protecting the Hudson River wildlife.  So how, in the face of such legal diversity is Riverkeeper continuing to fight to put the Indian Point nuclear facility out of business and most importantly can they succeed?

Structure

Riverkeeper was founded in 1966 by a group of local fishermen; the original premise of this organization was to hold accountable the industrial factories that were polluting the Hudson River; factories such as Consolidated Edison (ConEd), Penn Central Pipe and General Motors were dumping hazardous materials and waste into the water including paint, oil and raw sewage. Today’s Riverkeeper has swelled to a fulltime staff of twenty-three people, and are answerable to a Board of Directors of thirty individuals including such recognizable last names such as the Rockefellers and the Kennedy’s. Membership is open to the public though and is achieved by simply donating online for as little as $10. In fact Riverkeeper’s extensive and informative website gives not only ways to donate and become a member but also how to set up your own personal fundraising page to encourage friends, family and co-workers to donate and become members as well. As the group is a collective organization 83% of all monies raised go directly to support the programs and campaigns designed to protect and clean up the Hudson. These programs gain public support through bill posting at local marinas, press releases, booths at local events such as Earth Day and River Fest, and creation of a monthly newsletter and journal both which are available for free download on the website. The vigor with which the Riverkeeper organization runs can best be summed up by the following statement from their website:

“Riverkeeper combines a unique set of strengths that make such alliances attractive to many groups: a professional reputation, a grassroots base of public support, a powerhouse of attorneys, and strong interlinking partnerships with key organizations expert in law, engineering, biology, hydrology, economics and energy policy.”

This statement gives a good idea at how such a proletariat organization has managed to stay alive for so many years and why it has managed to grow into the thriving group of humanitarians it is today.

Substance

Over the past 43 years, Riverkeeper has launched numerous campaigns in an effort to safeguard the community and the watershed that once boasted thousands if not millions of trout, black bass, perch, blue crab, eel, and shad[1] all of which provided a livelihood for fishermen and food for local New Yorkers ranging from Albany to New York City. Each campaign has fought for a cleaner, safer river; a river in which the fish are no longer poisoned (or poisonous for consumption), a place where “clean boating” is encouraged and taught, and public river access for swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and sailing thus making the Hudson accessible by the public once again. But it is Riverkeeper’s most aggressive campaign that this article is most concerned with.

In 2001 Riverkeeper began an aggressive campaign to shut down the nuclear facility of Indian Point, in Buchanan, New York. Due to an extensive history of safety failures and the high cost to fix and maintain the current structure Riverkeeper has petitioned multiple time to have the nuclear facility declared a national security risk thereby making it ineligible for re-licensing of it’s two Nuclear reactors Unit 2 and Unit 3 in the years 2013 and 2015 respectively. Safety is the number one issue Riverkeeper takes with Indian Point, citing a laundry list of errors including; malfunctioning emergency sirens, violations cited by New York Power Authority (NYPA) causing Indian Point 3 to be shut down for two-and-a-half years, hundreds of gallons of radioactive waste being leaked into the Hudson river, consistent emergency unit shut-downs due to leakage and overheating, and a complete shutdown of the system during the 2003 blackout which left Indian Point offline for nearly a week. The damages of a nuclear reactor leak are not small scale and Riverkeeper has pointed out that an entire nuclear reactor meltdown would annihilate instantly everything within seventeen (17) and a half miles from its epicenter, or almost all of Rockland county, 1/3 of Orange County, 1/2 of Putnam County and just over half of Westchester county. Additionally the fallout “Peak-Injury” zone of up to 50 miles would encompass all of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs as well as northeastern New Jersey and Dutchess and Ulster Counties. The magnitude of such a meltdown of even one reactor would dwarf the Chernobyl incident by comparison. The threat, according to Riverkeeper and Government commissioned studies, ranks Indian point as one of the highest risk nuclear plants in the nation, yet the facility remains open and operating. If nothing is done by 2013, Unit 2 will be re-licensed for another 20 years.

Strategy

In 2006 Riverkeeper launched a public campaign entitled “Reenergize New York” Riverkeeper hopes to inform the public on alternate energy sources and ways to reduce energy consumption. Everything from using Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFL’s) to turning our air-conditioner thermostats a couple degrees higher in the summer would reduce the amount of electricity used thus preventing another blackout. The structure of this plan is two-fold, if the lower Hudson valley can reduce its energy consumption, not only will they help the environment but also will they prove that they can survive without a nuclear power plant in their backyard. Riverkeeper has continued to hold Indian Point and it’s parent corporation, Entergy, to task by repeatedly taking them to court citing lack of security, outdated equipment and cooling towers, unintentional dumping of radioactive waste into the river and malfunctioning emergency sirens. Petitions have been signed, studies have been mounted and completed and each day is another day closer to the re-licensing date. Still Entergy is allowed to keep Indian Point open with the tentative blessing from the Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) and still Riverkeeper puts up a tireless fight to prove once and for all that the facility is in need of critical repair at costs which far outweigh it’s benefits.

Entergy Nuclear is a subsidiary of Entergy Power, a conglomeration of nine other energy companies. Entergy runs ten nuclear facilities in all, from Louisiana to Vermont. As a large corporation, Entergy is a publicly traded company with stockholders, investors, marketing departments and numerous subsidiaries all very much unlike the grassroots supported Riverkeeper. Entergy’s power and financial backing make it a formidable foe thus one risks the question, does Riverkeeper have a chance at winning this battle?

Failure of the Campaign Model

Riverkeeper’s campaign has been consistent, informative and concise but thus far Indian Point has remained open, and despite its long history of safety failures, continues to operate at full capacity today.  Indian Point has in fact been the center of its own aggressive campaign to remain open and ensure the public that it is a safe and viable alternative to fossil fuels. Radio and local television commercials have been instrumental in getting the Entergy name broadcast into every local household. Unfortunately though, Riverkeeper has not positioned itself inside people’s homes with mass marketing; instead they have taken a more passive approach by inserting themselves into news broadcasts as the thorn in the side of Entergy Nuclear. Whether this paints them in a negative or positive light though is not the issue, instead what remains to be seen is an active push to alert the public of the very obvious dangers of Indian point. As one reads the website you can see the amount of investigative work that Riverkeeper has done to inform the public on the safety concerns and spurious practices put in place by Entergy – Nuclear. What is missing though is a clear outline of a media marketing approach which would publicize the campaign. If this campaign is so important why has Riverkeeper not used the same tactics promoting themselves as Entergy has? As noted above, Entergy has a far more income than Riverkeeper, this is obvious, but with the price of mass-marketing at an all time low I find it unlikely that Riverkeeper would not be able to afford even a simple radio spot to air locally once, twice or even three times a day. But as of this article I can find no indication or record[2] of any marketing being done to inform the public that Riverkeeper even exists, let alone a publicized campaign for “Reenergize New York”, or the myriad of issues surrounding Indian Point. As protector of the lower Hudson valley and its waterways it is only logical as well as a responsibility that Riverkeeper should be more forthcoming with their information for the general public. If they wish to win against as big of a corporation as Entergy they will need the backing and support of not just their members but of the 20 million people that this decision effects. I am hoping that Riverkeeper will wise up in the next year and use their resources to advertise openly what they preach to the already converted.

Works Cited

Riverkeeper.org. 1 Apr. 2009. Riverkeeper, Inc.

5 Apr. 2009 .

Applebome, Peter. “Why a Fish Didn’t Show at a Festival in Its Honor”.

The New York Times. 22 May 2008

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Entergy.com. 1 Apr. 2009 Entergy Corporation. 5 Apr. 2009

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[1] The environmental group Riverkeeper had its 19th annual Shad Festival on Sunday, sort of a green-era version of the gatherings that go back to the native Americans. But this year it was missing one thing — shad.

With populations of the fish dwindling to historically low levels, the decision was made to have the festival without serving any shad for the first time. People can debate the cause and just how dire the situation is. But coming on the heels of a Riverkeeper report showing significant long-term declines for 10 of 13 species of Hudson River fish, the shadless Shad Festival is yet another reminder that, in fact, nature’s promises do not come with a lifetime guarantee. (Applebome)

[2] I have contacted the Riverkeeper head office and as of today

am still awaiting a reply from their marketing department regarding their campaign funding and dispersal.

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