By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
Last weekend’s transformer failure at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan didn’t just send choking black smoke into the evening sky. The potentially deadly incident also sent fear into the surrounding communities.
Let me start by commending our emergency personnel who quickly responded in such a professional manner. Awareness-level communication protocols were immediately enacted by the Rockland County Office of Fire and Emergency Services, Entergy officials and NRC regulators, effectively addressing the primary issue encountered. That said, there was a significant problem that went unaddressed for many hours.
It is my understanding that the explosion and resulting fire, which occurred in the #31 main transformer, was quickly extinguished by the automatic fire suppression system and the nuclear plant’s on-site fire brigade, along with local firefighters. We know that thousands of gallons of foam and water were applied to the blaze. The overflow of the transformer containment area caused mineral oil, foam and water to enter the Hudson River with negative consequences. Here in Rockland County, the environmentally-sensitive marshland around the Iona Island Bird Sanctuary was despoiled with oil. Riverfront areas of Tomkins Cove, Stony Point and Haverstraw were also fouled.
I am deeply concerned about the lack of preparedness by plant owner Entergy to thoroughly contain the spill. It must be understood that the capabilities of any onsite emergency system be sufficient to handle the aftermath of any crisis at the facility. This is not the first time a transformer fire has caused offsite environmental impacts. Similar incidents occurred in 2007 and 2010.
This week, I sent a letter to Indian Point Energy Center Vice President Larry Coyle strongly recommending that a permanent hard boom be installed in the Hudson River near storm drain discharge points to capture an unplanned release of oil and other wastewater. If this cannot be accomplished, then a hard boom should be stored for quick deployment, in the event of a fire or spill that could have offsite consequences.
I was also dismayed that my Office of Fire and Emergency Services Assistant Director was originally misled by nuke plant officials in the minutes after the transformer failure. Asking specifically whether oil had leaked into the river during a 7:30 p.m. conference call that night, the official response was, “Not that Entergy is aware of, but we’ll have spill contractors check it out when they arrive.”
I find it unacceptable that once the oil was discovered to be floating in the Hudson River, officials in Rockland County were not notified in a timely manner. It is likewise indefensible that the County Executives in both Rockland and Orange first learned of an oil slick in the river by reading Sunday’s newspaper. We cannot and will not accept this narrative of “business as usual.”
I have been in communication with my executive colleagues in Westchester, Orange and Putnam counties. We look forward to an expected high level meeting with Entergy officials that will detail the steps to be taken to address emergency response shortcomings going forward.
Power demands notwithstanding, I fully understand the risks inherent to the Indian Point Energy Center. As your County Executive, it is my job to keep the residents of Rockland County safe. I will continue to do everything I can to make certain Entergy operates safely – in the best interest of our people and our environment.