Federal Experts to Assess Security at Indian Point Nuclear Reactor

The United States Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday began a top-to-bottom review of emergency preparedness and security at the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County. The review is part of a sweeping initiative by the federal government to assess the vulnerability of the nation's infrastructure.

A dozen experts from several federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the F.B.I. and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, converged on Indian Point's two reactors, in Buchanan, N.Y., to conduct a three-day inspection. The team started its review of security and emergency plans for Indian Point last week in Washington, according to Kirk Whitworth, a spokesman for Homeland Security.

The officials will identify gaps in those areas and suggest improvements in a report to be issued next week, Mr. Whitworth said. The report will not be made public, but it will be shared with local law enforcement officials and the plant's owner, Entergy Nuclear Northeast.

As the agencies were working in private on the plant's grounds, across the Hudson River in Rockland County an environmental group that has called for Indian Point's closing was staging a flashy protest.

The environmental group, Riverkeeper, like other critics of the plant, argues that it would be impossible to evacuate the more than 300,000 people who live within 10 miles of the plant, which is 35 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. Opponents also criticize what they call a lack of security at the plant. They are concerned, for example, that planes are allowed within 1,000 feet of the reactors and boats within 500 feet of the shore.

To illustrate those points, a Riverkeeper boat bearing a large banner of a yellow ''sitting duck'' motored back and forth while a plane flew overhead dragging a sign that read, ''FEMA: Late to Katrina, Lying to New York.'' The crafts were well outside the boundaries, but a law enforcement boat and helicopter tailed them for a time nonetheless.

Alex Matthiessen, Riverkeeper's president, called the response ''a farcical show of force to give the impression that they are actually protecting the plant.'' He said that the group's own boat passed by the plant about 100 times a year, and the group had concluded that the security is ''very, very minimal.''

But Mr. Whitworth countered Riverkeeper's challenge, saying that the point of the review was to improve communication between the federal, state and local agencies that would be responsible for dealing with an accident at the plant. ''We believe that this coordination is going to enhance security and emergency response at Indian Point,'' he said.

In the next 18 months, federal agencies will conduct similar reviews of all the nuclear power plants in the country. The reviews started in May, with Indian Point the eighth of more than 70 to be assessed. The Department of Homeland Security, which was created after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, will also investigate the security at chemical plants, liquid-natural-gas facilities and transportation networks, Mr. Whitworth said.

Mr. Matthiessen said that the federal government's handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster did not augur well for a nuclear accident or a terrorist attack at Indian Point. ''FEMA's gross incompetence has been on full display during the tragic events down in New Orleans,'' he said. ''And that was a natural disaster for which we had several days' warning.''

He urged the federal government to withdraw its approval of the emergency plan for Indian Point, and for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to revoke Indian Point's license. The emergency plan was approved two years ago despite the protests of local officials and after a highly critical study commissioned by Gov. George E. Pataki by James Lee Witt, a consultant and former FEMA director.

(c) 2005 The New York Times Company