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Indian Point Nuclear Plant Can Withstand Seismic Activity, Officials Say

Monday, March 14, 2011

The aftermath of Japan’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake continued to worsen this weekend after power shut down a cooling system at a nuclear power plant close to Onahama.

Radiation levels inside the Fukushima Daiichi facility surged to 1,000 times more than normal, and some radiation escaped from the plant.

Japan's nuclear plant leak has moved many to consider what would happen in New York should seismic activity occur near the Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan, which is about 45 miles from Times Square. The company that owns it, Entergy, said its facility is secure in the face of seismic motion.

"The reactor itself is an incredibly strong vessel," said the plant's spokesman, Jerry Nappi. "It's a tank that's 10 feet-by-10 feet-by-40 feet. And that reactor vessel sits inside the containment dome. That containment dome is one of the strongest structures built by men."

The containment dome is made of concrete that's four-to-six-feet thick and reinforced by steel rebar.

"That's about as thick as my forearm," Nappi said. "It's intended to keep any sort of steam inside."

Indian Point is also built to include a safe shut-down mechanism in the event of earth shifting that stops nuclear reaction in seconds. Control rods stop the nuclear fission process and core cooling mechanisms turn on to keep the plant from heating up. Should electricity go out in the area, sets of diesel generators and batteries kick in to power running water.

There are also mechanisms in place to prevent Uranium from leaking. “The Uranium pellets are about the size of a pencil eraser," Nappi said. "The pellets are clad with a ceramic coating to keep the Uranium from being in contact with the water.”

Nappi said New York tends to be a practically non-seismic region.

"The worst postulated earthquake for this region is many times smaller than what occurred in Japan. And of course, there’s no threat of a tsunami in our region," he said.

All commercially owned nuclear plants in the U.S. are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (N.R.C.).

"The plants need to be able to withstand the most severe natural phenomena historically for the area in which they would exist," said Diane Screnci, commission spokesperson for the Northeast region.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reexamined the role of preparedness first after the accident in 1979 in Three Mile Island," Screnci said. "And we have enhanced our focus on that area since then. Also, the events of 9/11 prompted a new focus on the events of emergency preparedness."

The commission said it was constantly fine-tuning its emergency preparedness procedures.

“It’s another area that we look at continuously,” Screnci said. “If there’s no new information to evaluate, we’ll look at it and decide whether we need to have additional requirements.”

The two units running at Indian Point were built in 1974 and 1976. The facility provides 1,000 megawatts of electricity. That's enough power for 2 million households, or 25 percent of the houses in New York City.

The last time New York felt a major disturbance was New Year’s Day of 1966, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake damage, which was felt in a 46,500-square-kilometer area, caused plaster to fall at the Attica State Prison and the main smokestack to be damaged. 

A 3.9-magnitude earthquake occurred in the Atlantic Ocean last November, about 80 miles off the coast of Southhampton on Long Island.

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Comments [10]

Chicken Little

So maybe we should abandon NYC? Since it is SO likely to be hit by a major earthquake? The damage at Indian Point is peanuts compared to what would happen when the skyscapers start falling.
Not to minimize Fukushima, but remember the earthquake and tsunami did billions in damage and killed thousands of people. The nuclear plant damage is only one facet of that.

Mar. 01 2012 09:38 AM
lynn westbrook

What were they thinking. Close Indian Point Now. What are they waiting for.

Mar. 17 2011 08:20 PM
Tracy Brown

Here is the study from Columbia University that shows that Indian Point is situated along two seismic fault lines - http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2235

New York can do better. It's time to replace Indian Point.

Mar. 15 2011 11:45 PM
Lisa Rainwater

Unfortunately, it is not just a matter of the reactor itself. As we see the horrors unfolding in Japan, we've learned there is no containment dome for the spent fuel pools. A loss of water to these pools could lead to fire, which Dave Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists notes in the NY Times today would be "worse than a meltdown." WYNC should have asked Mr. Nappi -- who touts IP's containment dome as "one of the strongest structures built by men" -- about the spent fuel pools at Indian Point, which have been racked and re-racked for years with spent fuel rods. There are no containment domes for the pools. Indian Point's two aging reactors, which have been perpetually plagued with mechanical problems - including faulty backup diesel generators - continue to operate in a region where 20 million people live within a 50-mile radius.

Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies who served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department's secretary from 1993 to 1999, provides information on the risks posed by spent fuel and the fuel pools at Counter Punch: http://www.counterpunch.com/alvarez03142011.html

Mar. 15 2011 02:55 PM
Alex Matthiessen from NYC

It's extraordinary to me that WNYC would run a piece like this and not have a single voice from the opposition, from groups like Riverkeeper and Union of Concerned Scientists which are experts on Indian Point and can provide a more sobering and honest point of view. Instead, you interview a company man from Entergy, which hauls in over $2 million per day from operating Indian Point, and a PR spokeswoman from the NRC, the most "captive" agency in the federal government whose "emergency preparedness plans" are an open joke -- of the black humor variety. WNYC, of which I am currently a member, does its members a disservice by not presenting both sides of this debate. Tsk, tsk.

Mar. 15 2011 12:28 PM
Chris

You guys are right, nuclear power is way too dangerous. I mean, no one ever died from using coal, our main source of energy. :)

Mar. 15 2011 09:26 AM
Bez from New York

It's pathetic and highly predictable that corporatist lackeys at NPR are desperately trying to minimize the dangers of nuclear power.

NPR is doing its best to downplay the dangers by seizing upon any vaguely optimistic projections and featuring those at the start of their newscasts - while censoring any pessimistic voices.

What NPR has become is so sad, it used to be a good, reputable source of information.

Mar. 14 2011 03:59 PM
PM from NYC

Let's assume that the nuclear reactor is 100% safe and natural catastrophe proof (let's pretend!), what about the spent fuel storage pool? Is it also engineered to withstand an earthquake or could it fracture, loose the coolant and allow a Chernobyl reenactment on the Hudson? I could not find any data on spent fuel containment!

Just asking.

Mar. 14 2011 03:32 PM
John Smith from New York

Even without seismic activity, Indian Point is already leaking and has been for years.

This story is from October 2006: New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation’s Indian Point nuclear plants, 24 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, have a radioactive lake underneath them. The UPI reported that the body of radioactive water that has leaked into the ground “has grown to approximately the size of the Central Park Reservoir, the New York Daily News said.” “Dan Mayer, special projects director for Entergy, said the underground area has contaminated water between 50 and 60 feet deep, the Daily News said. Another area is about 30 feet wide and 350 feet long.” Mayer also stated that the primary contaminants in the leaked water are strontium 90 and tritium [radioactive hydrogen], “both carcinogenic,” according to the UPI.

Mar. 14 2011 02:45 PM
Bill Ragette from Brooklyn

Can it withstand a terrorist attack

Mar. 14 2011 01:50 PM

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