a warning: John Shannon.
Photo by John Whipple.
well-known critic questions the safety of the Capital Region’s
last Friday’s warning by the FBI of a so-called “spectacular
terrorist attack” intended to damage the U.S. economy and
inflict large-scale casualties on U.S. citizens, heightened
security measures were immediately put in place at locations
across the nation. But some argue that a possible target is
being overlooked; one that, if attacked, could have devastating
effects on those living in the Capital Region.
According to John Shannon, a former nuclear physicist, two
nuclear reactors in this area—Kesselring Naval Training Site
in Milton, and Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna—are
ill-prepared in the event of an attack. He contends that unless
containment vessels are built around the facilities, particularly
at Kesselring, the public is at great risk for hazardous exposure
should a terrorist fly a plane into or plant a bomb at either
is a disaster waiting to happen that would be worse then Chernobyl,”
said Shannon, who was manger of safety at both sites for 31
years, and has been a frequent critic of the sites’ safety
policies in the years since his departure. “They don’t have
containment vessels nor emergency core cooling systems, and
nobody is doing anything to protect us because it would cost
too much money.”
He explained that the reactors used at the Kesselring site
are pressurized water reactors, and if punctured, the water
would go out into the atmosphere. Along with the water, highly
radioactive material like uranium could be released that could
kill everyone at the site and possibly those living within
a 10-mile radius of the facility. However, he added, having
a containment vessel could prevent such hazardous waste from
need to build containment vessels so if an incident were to
occur it could be contained,” said Shannon. “They don’t have
that, and they won’t build it, because it would require them
to close down the facility for two or three years, and that
would cost them too much money.”
Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory operates the two reactors,
which are owned by Lockheed Martin. According to James Burns,
spokesman for KAPL, the facilities conduct research and development
work on navel nuclear propulsion plants. They provide technical
support for operating nuclear-powered ships and operates two
prototype propulsion plants for testing equipment and for
the training of naval personnel for the Navy’s nuclear fleet.
Burns disagreed with Shannon’s claims. He said that there
is minimal risk to the public from either of the KAPL sites,
and that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, security
measures have been heightened. He said that the impact of
a terrorist attack at either site would likely be localized
on-site and not severe.
continue to evaluate information about the terrorist threat
to our country as part of ensuring security and safety at
our sites,” said Burns. “But we will not discuss the specific
nature of the security measures.”
Burns pointed out that there are no reactors at the Knolls
site. But the Kesselring site has two reactors that are built
to high-shock standards.
to what you have been told,” said Burns, “Both reactors have
safety and containment systems. In fact, both reactors meet
or exceed all requirements for ensuring protection of the
public and the environment.”
But Shannon said that this is the same old rhetoric that KAPL
has been feeding the public for years.
know that this is a real threat,” said Shannon, who left the
facility in 1990. “Do you think they would admit any threat
to public health and safety? I have been involved in many
discussions with technical people at these facilities where
it was said that we should have containment vessels.”
Daniel Fiorillo, director of emergency management for Schenectady
County, said that he can’t comment on what safety mechanisms
are in place at either of the KAPL sites. However, he did
say that the county has plans in place to handle a chemical
spill or an explosion. In the event of a terrorist attack,
these same procedures would apply.
someone drops a nuclear bomb in our backyard, a major one
that comes in on a missile,” said Fiorillo, “then we have
to face that in a different context, but in dealing with the
local companies, we feel we have sufficient plans in place.”
But Shannon said that until safety containment vessels are
built at the nuclear sites themselves, the public is still
at real risk.
people who started this business at Kesselring and even those
who started the nuclear power business were real geniuses,”
said Shannon. “You had Einsteins that went and taught at Princeton
and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But now you have guys that
barely know anything about nuclear power. It has become a
business, and it is now run by incompetent people. They may
know how to run a business, but that is not the same thing.”
Burns insisted that one of KAPL’s top priorities is safety.
of us live with our families in Saratoga and Schenectady counties,”
said Burns. “All of us take very seriously our responsibility
for reactor safety and protection of the community.”
We Go Again
big-box retail project threatens historic buildings in Rensselaer
for Destruction: An uncertain future for the Freihofers
bakery building in Lansingburgh. Photo
by Joe Putrock.
controversy many Troy residents believed dead was stirred
to life again last week as Eckerd Drugs submitted a new proposal
to demolish the 89-year-old Freihofer’s bakery and 107-year-old
Riverside Club in Lansingburgh to make way for a new and expanded
The renewed tension in the air was mixed with the dust of
the 164-year-old Defreest-Church House in East Greenbush,
which was razed last week to make way for parking at a new
Target store. Historic-preservation activists, still outraged
over this defeat, rallied about two dozen speakers to a Troy
Planning Commission meeting last Thursday to oppose what is,
in their view, the unnecessary destruction of two other community
felt that we needed to stop this demolition derby,” said Eric
Daillie, cofounder of the Troy-based Historic Action Network.
“It’s very important to save these structures to keep a certain
flair to visitors . . . as opposed to another ‘big-box’ pharmacy—they’re
all the same—and a huge parking lot.”
Eckerd’s proposal to take down the old buildings near the
foot of the Troy-Waterford Bridge and build a so-called “big
box”—a large-scale retail store—was tabled by the Planning
Commission, which recommended that Eckerd submit an environmental
impact study. Activists viewed the commission’s seemingly
mundane suggestion to delay the project as a step in the right
think the recommendation of the Planning Department is an
indication that attitudes are changing,” said Daillie.
Historic Action Network was formed three years ago. According
to cofounder Russell Ziemba, it has an active membership of
Capital Region residents numbering in the low hundreds. Its
members have urged Eckerd to reuse the buildings to maintain
the neighborhood’s character.
When Eckerd offered its first application to build on the
site in March 2000, Historic Action sued the company and the
project’s developers, Catskill Associates and Schuyler Companies,
based on the claim that Eckerd’s projections on the impact
a big-box store could have on traffic and the neighborhood’s
character were flawed. The state Supreme Court initially dismissed
the case on Eckerd’s argument that Ziemba and Daillie did
not live close enough to the buildings to have any standing
in the case, but the state’s appellate division overturned
the lower court’s decision when other members of Historic
Action joined the lawsuit.
After years of stagnating in court, most activists thought
Eckerd had given up.
during the last nearly three years we felt that Eckerd had
dropped their proposal for various reasons—the state of the
economy, they’d overexpanded, the continual lawsuit,” Ziemba
But last week’s proposal—which is not much different from
the first plan except that it looks to downsize the proposed
store from 13,000 to roughly 11,000 square feet—proved Historic
Eckerd spokewoman Tami Alderman said the company only wants
the property to relocate and expand a store in the same neighborhood
so it can offer its customers new conveniences. Alderman also
said that the company offered to pay to move the buildings
rather than demolish them.
that offer was declined,” Alderman said. “We are making every
effort to work with the community, and the store we have proposed
for that site is brick with arches and it fits into the surrounding
In any case, Eckerd is not willing to use the buildings.
site and the buildings are not designated as historical, and
the area is commercial,” Alderman said. “Unfortunately, in
most cases, [reusing an older building] does not work for
us. There are wiring and plumbing concerns.”
Ziemba and Daillie pointed out that other businesses in the
Troy area have managed to renovate and use old buildings,
including two CVS drugstores, one of which is in an old bottling
plant on 5th Avenue in Lansingburgh. Although the bakery and
Riverside Club are not officially designated as historic,
activists see their destruction as part of a larger problem
with overdevelopment. They noted the existing Eckerd competes
with a CVS, a nearby Rite Aid, and supermarkets, and pointed
out other local buildings lost in recent years to big chain
stores: for example, the old water commissioner’s mansion,
which stood only a few hundred yards away from the buildings
now under the threat of demolition.
interest is not necessarily the viability of the neighborhood
or providing a service to the people in that neighborhood,
it’s becoming the predominant drugstore chain,” Ziemba said.
“I agree that we need economic development and tax revenue,
but we do that by rehabilitating these important buildings.”
Economic development was one concern Troy Mayor Mark Pattison
listed among the city’s necessary considerations, but would
say only that the city will look at the new proposal based
on its merits.
don’t think it would be appropriate for me to have an opinion,”
said Pattison. “They have every right to bring a new proposal
to the city, and we have to respond. . . . It’s America, and
the government can’t just capriciously and arbitrarily condemn
a project just because we don’t like the style.”
Ziemba said politicians without opinions, including Rensselaer
County Executive Kathy Jimino, are part of the problem.
politicians were all passing the buck, saying they were sympathetic
but couldn’t do anything,” he said of the Defreest-Church
After years of bickering, some residents wonder why Eckerd
is so persistent.
the best place in town,” Daillie said. “It’s more a real estate
investment, I think. . . . and they’re willing to pay an army
of lawyers to pursue that.”
Anyone Seen This Birdhouse?
you noticed that something is missing from Washington Park?
Take a stroll to the corner of Hudson Avenue and Willett Street
and look to the pie-shaped piece of land, and you may notice
that the city’s favorite birdhouse is no longer there. But
not to worry: Willard Bruce, commissioner of general services
for the city of Albany, said that the bird condo has been
taken down temporarily, for repairs.
Bruce explained that this summer maintenance workers noticed
pieces of the birdhouse on the ground, so the city decided
take it down for the winter. “It was falling apart, so our
carpenters are doing a bit of rehabilitation to it,” said
The city plans on putting the birdhouse back up in time for
the 2003 Tulip Fest.