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Indian Point Nuclear Plant Officials Field Tough Questions From Lawmakers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The nuclear fallout from the devastating earthquake in Japan has put a spotlight on the Indian Point nuclear power plant as licenses for its reactors come up for renewal.

Local watchdogs, frightened by the unfolding drama overseas, are rethinking their approval of a ten-mile evacuation plan for the plant.

Westchester County lawmakers asked Indian Point officials some tough questions at a committee meeting Monday, including whether workers could adequately respond to an emergency and the ability of the plant to withstand a disaster.

Michael Kaplowitz of the Westchester County Board of Legislators said the situation in Japan served as "an opportunity" and "an obligation to plan not panic."


1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon hears from Indian Point officials at a Westchester committee meeting

The owner of the plant, Entergy Corporation, reiterated its position Monday that the two Indian Point reactors were safe from all types of possible calamity.

Entergy said it would be reviewing the ability to respond to potential catastrophe at the plant. Still, many lawmakers have voiced concern because the plant sits close to a fault line in addition to its proximity to New York City, which is about 24 miles away.

"I have no doubt that there will be changes that we make in response to this event, but at this point I'm not prepared to tell you what they might be," Entergy Vice President John McCann said.

Communications director Jim Steets told WCBS 880's Catherine Cioffi that "there are parallels that are not appropriate," while admitting "there are lessons that can be learned."


WCBS 880's Catherine Cioffi speaks with Entergy's Jim Steets

Last week, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said federal regulators have ignored the plants' quake safety in the relicensing process.

"The potential for harm is so catastrophic that it has to be taken into account," Schneiderman said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo will meet with members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday.

The New York Public Interest Research Group and the Sierra Club have asked Cuomo to expand his agenda and discuss the state's other aging nuclear plants with NRC officials.

John Armbruster, a seismologist at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, points out that the fault lines north and west of the Westchester County plant were modest in comparison to Japan or California. Armbruster said that while the fault lines near Indian Point were unlikely to produce an event that would damage the reactors, he believes a safety review was in order.

"I wouldn't say alarming.  I would say, it should be of a concern," Armbruster said.

The plant's proximity to the city remains the big objection. Legislators, who approved evacuation plans, said Japan's experience frightens them especially given U.S. officials warned Americans in that country to stay fifty miles away from malfunctioning reactors.

A fifty mile evacuation zone around Indian Point would encompass the homes of more than 18 million people-- including all of New York City minus parts of Staten Island.

Licenses for the two reactors expire in 2013 and 2015. Industry insiders said that if they denied renewals, the plant would likely switch to natural gas.

SOUND-OFF: Despite Indian Point officials stating that the plant's reactors were safe from calamity, are you still worried about a possible meltdown?  Share your thoughts in the comments section...

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