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Suburban Dad: Day Tripping at Indian Point

We've all probably had our fill of summer travel stories, with their recommendations for this patch of sand over that, or one overpriced country farm stand over another. But what if you are officially beach and mountain cabin-ed out? Maybe you are running the clock out on the rest of the summer, or just want to do something different. In that timeless can-do suburban spirit, let's give the back-end of our summer the topspin it needs.

Visit Indian Point. That's right: become a nuclear reactor day tripper.

Though it takes some arranging, that hulking nuclear power plant along the banks of the Hudson runs public tours. Spending an August day in the shade of the reactor domes is probably not the summer of 2011 as you drew it up. That said: it can be compelling and informative.

No matter what side of the Indian Point issue you stand on (and few are in the middle of the divide) you'll learn something. Maybe it will confirm a suspicion. Or perhaps put a worry to bed. Either way, that's more intellect that can be gained from sitting in traffic along the way to Amagansett.

After writing about the controversial plant for many years for The New York Times, I finally came to the conclusion that barring viable alternatives (sorry, a few windmills in the Hudson or gerbils running along a treadmill don't cut it) the plant must stay open. Still, I'd wring my hands about security. I hadn't been at the plant in years and all I could see from the outside—was, well, not much security. It appeared as if someone could pole vault the fence and amble right up to the reactors.

A one-day vacation at Indian Point taught me otherwise. Security, post 9/11, has increased considerably.

Here's the deal: plant tours are labor intensive (there are criminal background checks to be done, so make certain all your crimes have passed undetected). There are also briefings beforehand. As a result, Indian Point almost always conducts tours for groups of 5-30 people. So gather friends together.

Jerry Nappi, a plant spokesperson, said that about 1,500 visitors went through Indian Point last year. They are on pace to have a few hundred more than that in 2011. That's not quite Martha's Vineyard, but a decent start.

A visit usually includes that briefing about the history of Indian Point (the site used to be—no joke—an amusement park), plant operations and design, management of used fuel and security. Then they'll field questions. The walking tour allows visitors to see the dry cask storage pad, turbine hall (where the turbines and generator are housed), the intake area (where water is pumped into the plant), the discharge canal (where, in a controversial process, the water makes its way back into the Hudson), and for those old enough - a visit to the fuel storage building to see the spent fuel pool. When the plant is shut down for a refueling (usually in the March/April period) visitors can even tour the containment building, getting a view of the signature domes from the inside.

Perhaps the discharge canal isn't quite as beautiful as those in Venice. And there certainly aren't any gondoliers. But Indian Point is an easier trip. What's more: at this point in the summer, you might learn more at Indian Point than frittering away yet another day watching kids in the undertow.

To arrange your Indian Point vacation, contact Pat Falciano. He coordinates the tour program and can be reached at 914-271-7441 or pfalcia@entergy.com .

Would you pack a picnic and take the kids to see Indian Point? Tell us below or on Facebook.

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Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," called "riveting" by Kirkus Reviews.  He wrote The New York Times'  "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville.  When not writing or teaching, he serves as a volunteer firefighter.  You can contact Marek through his website: www.marekfuchs.com or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.

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