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Post date: October 24 2007

Cuomo Calls For Safeguards Against Aerial Terrorist Attacks At Indian Point And Other Nuclear Power Plants

NEW YORK, NY (October 24, 2007). New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced today that his office submitted legal papers in support of its lawsuit calling on the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to force nuclear power plants, like Indian Point, to safeguard their facilities against terrorist attacks from the air. The lawsuit contends that the NRC violated federal law when it refused to require nuclear facilities to defend their plants from air attacks in regulations finalized this past March.

“It is unconscionable that federal regulators don’t require nuclear power plants like Indian Point to defend against airplane attacks by terrorists,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “The September 11th terrorists specifically contemplated attacking nuclear power plants with airplanes, yet the NRC continues to allow the owners of these plants to avoid their responsibility to guard against such attacks. My office will not allow the NRC to simply ignore a demonstrated threat to the safety of millions of New Yorkers who live near the Indian Point facility.”

While the NRC regulations in question apply to all nuclear power plants under the Commission’s jurisdiction, the brief filed today by Attorney General Cuomo has particular significance for the Indian Point nuclear power plant and the New York metropolitan area. Approximately 20 million people – about 6 % of the nation’s population – live or work within 50 miles of the Indian Point facility in Westchester. The 9/11 Commission not only concluded that the al-Qaida terrorists had specifically contemplated attacking nuclear power plants with aircraft, but that two of the hijacked planes flew near or over the Indian Point facility.

Westchester County Executive Andy Spano said, “I fully support and applaud Attorney General Cuomo's action. It is inconceivable to me that the NRC does not consider the possibility of an air attack on Indian Point. Six years after 9/11, why is this still an issue? The NRC should be mandating that every possible precaution be taken to protect the public health and safety. I am tired of hearing the NRC response that a plane crashing into the facility poses no threat. Well, no one thought the World Trade Center would collapse either.”

“20 million people live within 50 miles of Indian Point, and the facility was not built to withstand an aerial attack,” said Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who has called for the decommissioning of Indian Point. “NRC should be demanding high levels of preparation and accountability from nuclear facilities, not helping them to skate by with the bare minimum standards. I will continue to work with Attorney General Cuomo and others to ensure that Indian Point is protecting the people who live in the area, and that NRC is enforcing these efforts.”

Congressman Eliot Engel said, “I fully support this action by Attorney General Cuomo. I have repeatedly called for evaluations and upgrades to address major security concerns at nuclear plants across the country. I am particularly concerned about Indian Point which sits amidst some 20 million people and is adjacent to the water supply for 9 million people. I have long advocated for the Federal Aviation Administration to create a no-fly zone over this nuclear facility. The NRC has consistently refused to revise its security requirements to include measures to defend against an aerial attack, and it is time for that to change. We are flirting with disaster by refusing to defend ourselves from this obvious threat.”

Congressman John Hall said "Indian Point is located within the most densely populated region in the country and we know that terrorists have considered it as a potential target. It is critical that we take every step to secure the plant, including a defense from air attacks, and protect residents of the area. The potential of a disaster is too great to even allow airplanes to fly over Indian Point. The owners of Indian Point should absolutely be responsible for safeguarding the plant against an air attack."

For years, New York and other states have vigorously advocated for the NRC to revise its “design basis threat” (“DBT”) regulation, the regulation defining the type of threat that nuclear facilities must be designed to withstand, to include terrorist air attacks. But on March 19, 2007, the NRC finalized a new regulation that still refused to include air-based threats.

In response, on May 14, Attorney General Cuomo filed a lawsuit in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit against NRC’s decision to exclude air attacks from the final DBT regulation. The brief filed today supports this lawsuit. It cites the critical need to install relatively inexpensive physical barriers to defend against air attacks, particularly with the heightened post-9/11 threat of terrorism. The brief also demonstrates that the NRC’s decision is inconsistent with federal law and that the Commission’s exemption of air attack defenses contradicts its decision to require nuclear power plant owners to address water-borne, land-based, and cyber attacks. The lawsuit asks the court to direct the NRC to address the matter in the regulation.

Attorney General Cuomo has been critical of the NRC’s oversight of safety at nuclear power plants, particularly the Indian Point facility. On July 12, Attorney General Cuomo filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of a challenge to the NRC originally brought by Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano and others. These petitioners seek to compel the NRC to evaluate all issues that affect a nuclear power plant’s safety before renewing a license. This suit is currently pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The New York Attorney General’s suit is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Morgan Costello and John Sipos and Deputy Assistant Solicitor General Benjamin Gutman, under the supervision of Solicitor General Barbara Underwood and Special Deputy Attorney General Katherine Kennedy.