INDIAN POINT NUCLEAR PLANTS
Ed Bailey  /  AP file
The Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan, N.Y. were the site of the nation's first drill of a terrorist strike on a reactor using a commercial aircraft.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/10/2004 2:04:30 PM ET 2004-06-10T18:04:30

For the first time ever, a nuclear power plant this week incorporated a 9/11 scenario into its security drills: a terrorist strike using a commercial aircraft.

The drill at the Indian Point nuclear complex, located 40 miles north of New York City, will "very likely" be followed by similar drills as part of terrorist training at many of the other 102 reactors nationwide, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan told MSNBC.com.

Tuesday’s fake crash of a Boeing 767 set off an ever-worsening cascade of simulated events for plant operators and emergency responders. By the time the drill ended, a containment building was portrayed as filling with radioactive steam and portions of surrounding counties had been “evacuated” and residents advised to swallow anti-radiation pills. The actual residents, however, had no part in the drill.

Plant owner Entergy Nuclear Northeast and federal regulators had been criticized for not taking terror into account in emergency planning since the World Trade Center attack. At the site are the mothballed Indian Point 1 plant and the active Indian Point 2 and 3 plants.

Local skepticism
The drill was being evaluated Thursday but many locals already had voiced their concerns about how it was conducted.

Andrew Spano, chief executive of Westchester County, where the complex is located, took part in the drill but “still feels the evacuation wouldn’t work in a fast-breaking scenario of radiation escaping,” said his chief adviser, Susan Tolchin. Spano has called for a shutdown of the Indian Point plants.

Kyle Rabin, of Riverkeeper, a member of an alliance called the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, said the scenario did not include a simulated release of radiation into the atmosphere. That “speaks to the farcical nature of this exercise,” he said. “We want to know if the public can be protected from a release of radiation.”

He also criticized as “unbelievable” the announcement that there were no traffic control problems during the simulated evacuations.

How drill unfolded
The drill began with word that a group of men had been stopped on a Connecticut highway in a car laden with weapons and documents pointing to an attack on Indian Point. Then the North American Aerospace Defense Command alerted the NRC that a 767 cargo jet seemed to be heading for Indian Point.

The “crash” wiped out offsite power to the reactor as it was being shut down. Backup generators failed and a leak of reactor coolant raised the specter of a meltdown.

A fake general emergency was declared, and Westchester County ordered the evacuation and advised those who have potassium iodide to “swallow one dose now.” Potassium iodide is meant to inhibit the effect of radiation on the human thyroid.

The scenario of the crash included no damage to the reactor’s concrete containment building. Brian Holian, of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said recent studies showed “most plane crashes into containment buildings would not result in significant releases of radiation.”

A group of about 30 protesters, some in make-believe moon suits, were kept behind barricades outside the airport conference room where reporters — real ones and simulated ones — received intermittent briefings on the drill. One demonstrator carried a sign that said, “Westchester’s A-Glow, Where Do We Go?”

MSNBC.com's Miguel Llanos and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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