Nuclear Plants Subject to Terrorism, Earthquakes, States Warn
WHITE PLAINS, New York,, November 16, 2007 (ENS) - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the attorneys general of five other states have submitted a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, expressing "serious concerns" about the commission's disregard of safety issues - such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks - when deciding whether to renew the operating license of a nuclear power plant beyond its initial 40 year term.

"The NRC's failure to address safety issues including updating its review of seismic activity in the relicensing of nuclear power plants is irresponsible," said Cuomo.

"The NRC should have learned a lesson from this summer's earthquake in Japan, which forced the emergency shutdown of the world's largest nuclear plant and resulted in the release of radioactive material into the air and water," he said. "Our letter illustrates the concern states across the nation have about nuclear power plant safety."

Beyond the threat of terrorism, the U.S. Geological Survey has indicated there is a "significant" hazard for earthquakes in the New York metropolitan region. Geologists warn that a substantial earthquake in the region could be more disastrous than those in the Western United States because the rocky nature of the Earth's crust on the East Coast is capable of transmitting more powerful shockwaves.

Under current regulations, NRC license renewal procedures address age-related structural degradation of fixed, non-moving components, like reactor cores, containment systems, pipes and electrical cables.

But the commission does not specifically include factors that are also relevant to the avoidance of catastrophe, such as the location of the plant and surrounding population density.

Security and susceptibility to a terrorist attack are not addressed, even after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Nor does the commission consider the adequacy of emergency warning and evacuation plans in its license renewal procedures, and geographic and seismic issues are not considered either.

Indian Point nuclear power generating station is at Buchanan, New York on the Hudson River. (Photo credit unknown)

All these considerations are important for the pending licence renewal of two reactors at Indian Point on the east shore of the Hudson River, in Buchanan, Westchester County. The nuclear facility generates 2,140 megawatts of electricity for customers in Westchester and in New York City.

The current licenses for Indian Point Unit 2 and Unit 3 expire in 2013 and 2015, respectively. The owner, Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc., submitted a license renewal application to the NRC in April requesting authorization to operate each pressurized water reactor an additional 20 years. A final decision is not likely before 2009.

Situated 24 miles north of the Bronx, 20 million people live within the 50 mile radius of Indian Point where the greatest damage would occur in the event of an accident or deliberate attack.

Westchester County Executive Andy Spano said, "The Indian Point re-licensing process must consider all the possible threats to this plant, whether it's an earthquake, a terrorist attack or the fact that it is located in one of the most populated areas in the nation. We welcome the support of Attorney General Cuomo and the other attorneys general in our continued fight to protect the health and safety of the residents of the Hudson Valley."

Hudson Riverkeeper has been warning of these dangers for years. President Alex Matthiessen said, "Riverkeeper commends Attorney General Cuomo and his colleagues for challenging the NRC's failure to adequately address seismic risks during the relicensing review, when every aspect of a nuclear plant's operations, particularly safety and security risks, must be evaluated."

"Indian Point is an aging, badly maintained facility operating in the midst of 20million people, all of whom deserve the most rigorous, in-depth review possible. Anything less is an abdication of NRC's responsibility to protect public health and safety," Matthiessen said.

Cuomo's letter to the NRC was joined by Attorneys General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Beau Biden, III, of Delaware, Lisa Madigan of Illinois, Gregory Stumbo of Kentucky and William Sorrell of Vermont.

"The NRC has a legal and moral duty to assure that the nation's nuclear plants are as safe as possible," Blumenthal said. "Older nuclear power plants seeking relicensing must be held to the highest safety and environmental standards. Waiving safety standards for older nuclear power plants is illogical and irresponsible.

The Connecticut attorney general said, "Enforcing the toughest possible safety rules is vital to protecting public health and safety, as well as the environment."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

Source: Environmental News Service