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New Documentary Investigates Nuclear Power from New York to Fukushima via Earth Island Journal

A Conversation with Indian Point Director Ivy Meeropol

 […]

Ivy Meeropol is the granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for espionage on June 19, 1953 for allegedly passing A-bomb secrets to the Soviets. She is the daughter of Michael Meeropol, who — after his parents’ death — was adopted by songwriter Abel Meeropol, composer of the 1936 anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” famously sung by Billie Holiday and the pro-integration song “The House I live In.”

Ivy Meeropol previously directed 2004’s Heir to an Execution, an extremely personal HBO film that examined the case of the Rosenbergs, whose contentious electrocution took place at New York’s Sing Sing prison — only 10 miles from the nuclear Indian Point Energy Center. The Brooklyn-born, Massachusetts-raised Meeropol’s absorbing, incisive, new documentary Indian Point investigates this 1960s-built nuclear power facility, which sits just 35 miles north of New York City and is currently working to relicense two of its reactors. It also probes the 2012 ousting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, who was accused of bullying and intimidating employees, plus the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, triggered by a 2011 earthquake and tidal wave that caused meltdowns and the release of radioactive isotopes at the Japanese nuclear power plant.

The writer/director skillfully interweaves these three strands into a cohesive, comprehensive 94-minute tapestry exploring the controversial nuclear industry. In doing so, she evenhandedly interviews employees and executives of Entergy Corporation, which operates Indian Point, as well as activists opposing it. Her rare access enabled the intrepid filmmaker to enter both the Fukushima and New York facilities, allowing unusual insight into the inner workings, and politics, of the plants.

[…]

Your film has three main leitmotifs: Indian Point, Fukushima, and former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko. Do you think that Jaczko was subjected to allegations about his treatment of employees and eventually left his position as chairman because he was too critical of the nuclear industry?

Yes, I do. I do. It was a confluence of events but they really raked him over the coals. This is a guy who self-admittedly says Fukushima changed how he viewed his job. He was a regulator who worked for a powerful industry and probably didn’t feel like he had a lot of power. Before Fukushima he bought into what the industry line was and what a lot of the NRC members believe, which is that a meltdown like Fukushima couldn’t happen.

Then when Fukushima happened, it changed the way he viewed his job. He became more of an activist chairman. He gathered the staff around him.

Much of what he was proposing wasn’t anything all that radical… He really was just trying to respond to Fukushima, to figure out what happened there and try to make sure it didn’t happen here in the US. Not the tsunami part — but the meltdown. He directed his staff to look closely at Fukushima and come up with recommendations for the NRC, which they did. The rest of the commissioners didn’t like it because — I’m totally convinced of this — they’re too close to the industry and knew it would cost the industry a lot to make the new changes and they weren’t going to do it.

I’m sure there was some real friction there, but the NRC blew it up into a different story, saying that Jaczko was a horrible boss and yelled at people. That he was an angry boss, he kept things from them, and he kept people out of meetings. When that didn’t really stick, the story became that he yelled at women staffers and made them cry. His staff, when he did resign, made this beautiful book for him, because they knew what he had been through and how he was really railroaded out of there.

I got to know him really well — he’s a gentle person, he’s not a tyrant. The NRC painted this picture of him but none of the allegations stuck in the end. The NRC’s Inspector General’s report came back with absolutely nothing on him. He’s unemployed now.

[…]

By the same token, what was so chilling was Brian saying ‘Our job is to get through our shift unscathed.’ The fact that that’s how he sees his job tells me that, longterm, this is untenable. Any kind of energy technology that is so potentially catastrophic that the people who work at the plant characterize their own job as making sure they just get through unscathed isn’t tenable. I really tried to go in with an open mind — not from my “no nukes” stance — and I came out of there really, really respecting everyone who worked there and feeling better about it in some ways, but also ultimately feeling this is a dying industry. Especially now, with solar and wind, we don’t need it.

[…]

You point out in the film that Indian Point is “on two fault lines.” Is that an earthquake area?

Yes. We’re not known for earthquakes. There are two fault lines. They knew about one when they built the plant. The other one was discovered afterward. From what I understand, we’re potentially due for a fairly large earthquake on the Ramapo Fault Line, which runs right under the plant.

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