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Opponents Rally to Stop Expansion of Gas Pipeline Near Troubled Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

Posted June 10, 2015

MP3 Interview with Susan Rubin, climate activist, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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Grassroots groups all over the U.S. are fighting proposals for new or expanded fracked gas pipelines. In the last week of May, about 200 people protested outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, demanding that the industry-funded agency stops approving all pending permits for pipelines, compressor stations, gas storage facilities and gas export terminals until the agency is completely reformed.

Susan Rubin lives in Chappaqua, New York, just a few miles from the Indian Point nuclear power plant, and was one of the participants in the protests at FERC in Washington, D.C. FERC recently approved the Spectra Energy company’s proposal to double the capacity of a high pressure natural gas pipeline to a 46-inch diameter, that runs just 105 feet from the plant. Indian point, which was the site of a recent transformer fire, is considered by many opponents to be the most dangerous nuclear plant in the U.S.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Susan Rubin in a coffee shop in Washington, D.C., where both were participating in Beyond Extreme Energy's protest action called Stop the FERCus. Here, Rubin explains why she believes a large gas pipeline located so close to an operating nuclear power plant poses a serious danger to millions of greater New York City area residents and the efforts that are being made to raise public awareness and build opposition.

SUSAN RUBIN: I was surprised to find out there actually is an existing gas pipeline underneath the Indian Point nuclear plant, which is 25 miles north of New York City. But last year, I discovered that Spectra Energy was going to run a new pipeline, a 42-inch high pressure gas pipeline 105 feet – a new pipeline, part of the Algonquin Extension, part of the AIM project (near Indian Point) – and FERC has approved it at this point.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, there was already a gas pipeline under the nuke plant?

SUSAN RUBIN: Yes, it was built in 1952 and I was shocked, as you are, to discover this. The gas pipeline in San Bruno, California that exploded in 2010 and incinerated 38 homes, was of the same size, 20-inch, something like that. So this is going to be 42 inches, a whopper of a pipeline. And keep in mind that Indian Point has over 40 years of radioactive waste, what they like to call “spent” fuel on site, along with millions of gallons of fuel to run back-up generators in case there’s a power outage. So all of these things are potentially catastrophic for the New York City metropolitan area, because New York City is only 25 miles north of mid-town Manhattan, and there are 20 million people in the 50-mile zone around Indian Point. I think 13 percent of the population of the U.S. lives within 50 miles of Indian Point. So these pipelines are a real weak link in our system.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, just so I get the chronology right: it sounds like the first pipeline was built in the 1950s, the nuke plant was built on top of the pipeline, presumably after they knew the pipeline was there.

SUSAN RUBIN: That’s right, the pipeline was grandfathered in, but right now in the U.S. there is no other situation where a pipeline this big is in this kind of proximity to a nuclear power plant. This is a unique situation, and it seems to me that the NRC – the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – like FERC, is very industry-friendly, and there have not been any independent studies of the potential dangers of this pipeline/nuke plant combination.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, FERC is supposed to take certain things into consideration and it seems almost unbelievable to me that this situation wouldn’t have been something that would have triggered a rejection of the pipeline. Do you know if there was a full Environmental Impact Study done of this proposed pipeline, and what happened?

SUSAN RUBIN: The interesting thing is that the NRC supplied to FERC their study of safety for this, and what NRC did was they had Entergy – which is the corporation that owns Indian Point – do their own study. And of course Entergy’s study said, "Oh, no, this does not pose any risk whatsoever to site a pipeline so close." We do have a couple of people that are experts in the field who disagree and are speaking loudly. One of them is Paul Blanch, who is a nuclear engineer and surprisingly, Mr. Blanch is typically pro-nuke and pro-gas, and he is deeply concerned about this combination, and he is doing everything he possibly can. And he’s accused the NRC of some really strong things, like the fact that they really underestimated the blast radius of a 42-inch pipeline at whatever PSI. This is physics, but you don’t have to be a physicist to understand that a large pipeline, high pressure, methane is highly explosive.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So what is the opposition to this? You said Mr. Blanch is speaking out, but what about … you live nearby, you live close, but even people in New York City … are people organizing around this?

SUSAN RABIN: Well, fortunately, the SANE Energy Project in New York City, they are trying to get the word out. But in general, it’s really interesting, because people in New York City somehow think Indian Point is “upstate.” But it’s really not; it’s a 30-40 minute train ride. It’s not that far away. I feel like I’m a Paul Revere and I’m trying to do everything I can to get the word out about this, because our media in the New York City metro area doesn’t cover any news related to this pipeline. Most people are completely unaware that this pipeline project is happening.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Well, that seems to fit into what FERC is all about. Nobody’s ever heard of FERC either, and you and I are down here, in Washington, D.C. There’s been protests all week and we’ve been talking and passing out literature to passersby and to employees, trying to blockade the entrances with these amazing, beautiful banners that depict different people’s stories around the country who have confronted gas infrastructure of various kinds. I’m really interested in what people who care about this and know something think the best pressure point is. Should we be in front of FERC? Should we be at Congress? Should we be picketing the industry? Different people have done different things, but so far it’s been a real uphill battle. Things keep getting approved and it seems like they just keep flicking us away.

SUSAN RABIN: Well, I’m in agreement with both Ralph Nader and Paul Blanch, who say what we need to do is activate 1 percent of the population, and once we get that we will create a tipping point.

For more information, visit the website of SAFE, or Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, at sape206.org.

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