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Nuclear environmental threats interest few

BY P.J. HELLER | BUCHANAN, N.Y | February 19, 2000

A release of radioactive steam from a nuclear power plant located 35 miles from New York City has elicited little concern among environmentalists and faith-based organizations.

"I received no calls from anyone within the environmental community or outside the environmental community," reported Joann Hale, chairperson of the Church World Service-United Church of Christ resource unit on technological disaster.

Hale said there was also no call for assistance from faith-based organizations in Europe in response to a major cyanide spill that polluted rivers, including the Danube, in Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia.

She said that one reason for the lack of response by faith-based organizations overseas was because "in a lot of these countries,

environmental issues take the back seat" to more critical concerns.

"When you're dodging bombs and a river is polluted -- it's all a matter of priorities," she said.

In the radioactive steam release incident on Tuesday night, spokesman for Consolidated Edison said the release from the Indian Point 2

nuclear reactor was "momentary and miniscule" and posed no health danger to the public.

Edison declared an alert at the plant, the second lowest level of four emergency categories for nuclear plants established by the Nuclear

Regulatory Commission. It was the most serious accident in the 26-year history of the plant, which is located along the Hudson River.

There were no evacuations and no sirens were sounded in the community.

Hale, who also is part of the statewide VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) in New York, said there was little concern raised

about the accident even among state officials.

"If there's a disaster in New York state, I normally would get a call from the state emergency management office to explain the situation,"

she said. "In my mind, environmentally, obviously it's a big disaster. For the rest of the community out there, I did not hear from them, whether it be the state, environmental or the church community."

Hale said she felt the community was lucky this time and warned that it was only a matter of time before there was a more serious nuclear

accident somewhere in the world.

"It's not if it will happen, it's when it's going to happen," she said.

Con Ed officials said the radiation discharge was caused by a small leak in a steam generator tube.

The Jan. 30 cyanide spill has been blamed on a containment dam at a gold mine near Baia Mare in northwest Romania. One of the mine owners has denied responsibility for the spill.

Hale said her disaster team, formed about two and a half years ago, hasn't focused on international responses but could do so if called upon by faith-based groups or individuals.

The team was created to assist denominations, faith-based organizations and others in developing preparedness, response and mitigation programs related to technological disasters.

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