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Indian Point Fire Spurs Environmental Concerns Along Hudson River

11480802BUCHANAN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- There are environmental concerns Sunday after a fire at the Indian Point nuclear power plant.

The transformer fire resulted in a black plume of smoke pouring from the facility at around 6 p.m. Saturday, CBS2's Ilana Gold reported.

Sirens at the plant went off. Then a message was heard on a loudspeaker: "This is not a drill."

Indian Point Fire Sparks Concerns

"The fire was started, they believed the fire had been put out; the heat from the transformer actually reignited, so the transformer went on fire a second time, and it had to be put out a second time," Cuomo said.

When firefighters arrived, the fire had already died down from automatic sprinklers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo rushed to the facility with great concern. He talked to CBS2 about the badly damaged transformer and possible impact.

"It has discharged foam," he said. "It has discharged oil. Now we're worried about that leaking into the Hudson River -- and the storm drains go down into the Hudson. So that would be a problem."

Cuomo said the state Department of Environmental Conservation is on-site and on high alert.

"They're doing their best to seal off storm drains, but there is a lot of foam and there's a lot of oil, so the trick is to keep as much as we can from going into the river," the governor said.

Jerry Nappi, spokesman for Entergy Corp., which runs Indian Point, said this kind of fire has never happened before and safeguards are in place.

"We have trained fire brigade on-site 24/7 for events like this," he said.

Nappi said the public and workers were never in danger, and that the plant shut down "as it's designed to do." The fire was in a non-nuclear area of the facility.

The mere possibility of a radioactive leak or increased levels of radiation was dismissed, mostly, by authorities, CBS2's Steve Langford reported.

"Radiation levels, I'm assuming I have not -- you have to talk to the plant officials, NRC, but since it was not related to the nuclear reactor, I don't think there's been any change at all as far as radiation is concerned," said Commissioner Joseph Martens, with the DEC.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on May 10, 2015 following transformer fire a day earlier (Credit: Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Office)

Following a briefing on the incident Sunday, Cuomo said the fire has presented dual issues. First is the safety and security of residents.

"This plant is the nuclear plant that is closest to the most densely populated area on the globe. If something goes wrong here, it can go very wrong for a lot of people. So it's always been a priority for us," Cuomo said.

And second is the impact the fire has on the environment.

"There is no doubt but that oil did escape from the transformer, there is no doubt that oil did go into the holding tank and exceeded the capacity of the holding tank, and there is no doubt that oil was discharged into the Hudson River. Exactly how much, we don't know," he said.

Environmental investigators have put out booms in the Hudson to collect any oil that made its way into the water, CBS2's Matt Kozar reported.

"If that oil had reached the river, there's protective booms there to capture it," said Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi. "And because the oil is so light, there's no consequence to the environment."

But video released by the environmental group Riverkeeper, which says it shot images on the Hudson River earlier Sunday, shows in more graphic detail what appears to be oil in the water outside of the range of the booms next to Indian Point.

Oil sheen in Hudson River near Indian Point nuclear plant
Oil sheen seen in the Hudson River near Indian Point nuclear plant following a transformer fire on May 11, 2015 (Credit: Riverkeeper)

"Indian point is an extraordinary ax hanging over the river's head and our head," said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper's boat patrol captain. "And it is essential that the plant be closed, for the sake of the human residences of the valley and the sake of the (organisms in the river)."

A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said several thousand gallons of oil may have overflowed, Langford reported.

Crews are also closely watching the transformer just in case it reignites.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants to know why the transformer caught fire, said agency spokeswoman Diane Screnci.

"We have inspectors there on a daily basis, so they will follow up on this and monitor the plant workers' activities as they go about troubleshooting," she told WCBS 880's Ginny Kosola.

Indian Point is about 35 miles from New York City. Carl Lundgren of the grassroots group Shut Down Indian Point Now says that it is a problem.

"It wouldn't even be allowed to be constructed today because of the density of the population up there now," he said.

Holly Doslop has lived in Cortlandt Manor for 58 years and worries about catastrophic disasters at the plant.

"I would prefer myself not living so close," she said. "I could see myself 100 miles from here."

Entergy said it does not yet have a cause for the fire, but there is no indication that it was terrorism or sabotage on the transformer. The company said it will take several days to replace the damaged transformer.

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