By GREG CLARY
(Original publication: November 13, 2007)
NEW YORK — Opponents of Indian Point tapped "30 Rock" star Alec Baldwin yesterday to help launch an educational campaign they hope will close the nuclear plant - or at least keep it from extending its operating license another 20 years.
Baldwin volunteered to appear at a news conference at City University offices on Fifth Avenue and decried the U.S. government's handling of radiation information since the Johnson administration of the 1960s.
"I'm not opposed to nuclear power, so long as it's safe," said Baldwin, a Long Island native. "Nuclear power as it exists today is not safe. Many of the people in this room know that the federal government has manipulated the facts about nuclear power for years. The government cannot be relied on ... to present you with honest facts."
Baldwin, a wildlife and environmental activist whose mother is a cancer survivor, spoke about the nuclear industry's closeness to its regulators, the media's mishandling of the nuclear issue and the hidden costs of continuing to use nuclear fuel despite the nation's "addiction to energy."
Baldwin appeared with Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, who acknowledged his position at yesterday's event by saying he was "just warming the crowd up for Alec Baldwin," even as he reiterated his long-standing opposition to the plant.
After the two men spoke, they were followed by representatives of the Radiation and Public Health Project, Westchester Citizens Action Network, the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and a new anti-Indian Point group, Public Health and Sustainable Energy, outlining the reasons they believe the Buchanan site should be shut as soon as possible.
Barring a full closure, the activists argued against renewing the operating licenses of Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3, both of which are seeking 20-year extensions that would allow their owner, Entergy Nuclear, to continue to create electricity there until 2035.
The opponents cited groundwater contamination from leaks of strontium 90 and tritium, two radioactive isotopes first discovered as far back as August 2005, that they maintain are contributing to higher incidences of cancer in communities around the plants.
Joseph Mangano of the RPHP research group said cancer cases vastly decreased in areas where other plants had been closed, decommissioned and cleaned up.
Susan Shapiro, one of the activists who spoke yesterday and represents PHASE along with other anti-Indian Point groups, said the scientific community agrees with the studies.
Paul Steidler, a spokesman for New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, an industry group partially funded by Entergy, ended up with his own impromptu news conference when reporters finished listening to the anti-Indian Point portion.
Steidler called the science represented by Mangano and others at the meeting "junk science and nothing new" and cited a National Cancer Institute survey in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1991 that his organization said showed no more increased risk of death from cancer for those living near the nation's nuclear plants than those who don't.
Steidler's remarks were cut short when the Indian Point opponents began shouting for him to leave and calling him a liar. Reporters continued their interview outside the CUNY meeting room.
Jim Steets, Entergy's chief spokesman for Indian Point, said via telephone after the news conference that studies of strontium in children's teeth by Mangano's group haven't proved a correlation between the nuclear plant and increased levels of cancer.
He noted that Dr. Joshua Lipsman, Westchester County's health commissioner, called Mangano's baby teeth study junk science; that was in an interview with CNN in March 2005.
"There's no basis for the conclusions in his studies, let alone the correlation of cancer rates and Indian Point," Steets said.
"Entergy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Westchester County Department of Health and the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation have all said there is no safety threat from groundwater contamination below Indian Point."