The nuclear crisis in Japan has many in the U.S. wondering how any of the 104 nuclear reactors in this country would hold up in the event of a natural disaster like a strong earthquake. Surprisingly, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says the U.S. nuclear reactor that faces the highest earthquake risk is not located anywhere on the fault-ridden West Coast. Rather, it is located at the Indian Point Energy Center located along the Hudson River, just 24 miles away from New York City.
According to an MSNBC report, the chance of core damage to the No. 3 reactor at Indian Point from an earthquake is estimated at 1 in 10,000 each year. Under the NRC’s guidelines, this risk puts Indian Point No. 3 right on the verge of requiring “immediate concern regarding adequate protection” of the public.
The second riskiest nuclear reactor is also located along the East Coast, according to MSNBC. In fact, no West Coast reactor even breaks the Top 10. According to the NRC’s 2008 risk estimates, the 10 U.S. nuclear reactors that are most vulnerable to earthquakes are as follows:
â€¢ Indian Point 3, Buchanan, N.Y.: 1 in 10,000 chance each year.
â€¢ Pilgrim 1, Plymouth, Mass.: 1 in 14,493 chance each year.
â€¢ Limerick 1, Limerick, Pa.: 1 in 18,868 chance each year.
â€¢ Limerick 2, Limerick, Pa.: 1 in 18,868 chance each year.
â€¢ Sequoyah 1, Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.: 1 in 19,608 chance each year.
â€¢ Sequoyah 2, Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.: 1 in 19,608 chance each year.
â€¢ Beaver Valley 1, Shippingport, Pa.: 1 in 20,833 chance each year.
â€¢ Saint Lucie 1, Jensen Beach, Fla.: 1 in 21,739 chance each year.
â€¢ Saint Lucie 2, Jensen Beach, Fla.: 1 in 21,739 chance each year.
â€¢ North Anna 1, Louisa, Va.: 1 in 22,727 chance each year.
Indian Point’s No. 2 reactor ranks 25 on the list, with a 1 in 30,303 chance each year. Together, the two nuclear reactors at Indian Point generate up to one-third of the electricity for New York City, MSNBC said.
According to MSNBC, the NRC’s risk estimates takes two main factors into consideration: the chance of a serious quake, and the strength of design of the plant. California’s reactors rank better, for example, because they were built in anticipation of a major quake occurring there. Elsewhere, like New York State, design standards were lower because the risk of a quake was assumed to be low.
Now, with the Japan nuclear crises focusing attention on reactors everywhere, federal officials say they will review the safety of all U.S. nuclear power plants. The review was announced yesterday by Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the NRC, during a congressional hearing.
“The agency intends to go forward with a systematic and methodical look at all of the plants to see if – primarily based on the incident in Japan – to see if there are any modifications or changes we need to make to our regulation,” Jaczko told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
But some think the threat from New York’s Indian Point requires even more drastic action. According to a Gannett report, U.S. Representatives Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel, both New York Democrats, say the Indian Point reactors should not be relicensed when their permits expire in 2013 and 2015.
“In the wake of this catastrophe, we really have to evaluate carefully whether we are able to deal with a natural disaster or terrorist event at Indian Point or collateral issues like a loss of power or inability to cool fuel rods,” Lowey said.