Cuomo Stops Short of Calling for Indian Point Shut Down

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has pledged to make the Indian Point nuclear power plant its first priority in reviewing seismic risk at the nation's nuclear facilities in light of the disastrous earthquake in Japan. Cuomo stopped short, though, of calling for a shutdown of the Indian Point.

Cuomo, as Attorney General, expressed deep concerns about the safety of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which is located in population-dense Westchester County about 25 miles north of New York City. The governor said his worries were heightened after the Japan earthquake, and after new information that seismic threats to the plant might be greater than previously believed.

Cuomo said his staff and nuclear regulatory commission staff will soon conduct a new review of the potential dangers posed to the plant, which sits near a significant earthquake fault line.

"What is the risk?" asked Cuomo, saying he's seeking "solid information." "What can you do about it? Can it be mitigated?"

New York State does not have the power to shut down the plant. Only the federal government can do that. Cuomo is asking that the NRC "reevaluate" its criteria before it decides whether the plant should be re-licensed in 2013.

Cuomo said he will ask the NRC officials that "given what you know today, should that plant be licensed today?"

The governor said evacuation plans were discussed at the meeting, which was attended by Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy. But he said there's been no decision to revise those plans. The governor said, though, a 50-mile radius evacuation that the U.S. is recommending be put in place in Japan after the nuclear power plant failures there would be almost impossible to carry out if a similar situation occurred  at Indian Point.

"You're talking all of New York City. You're talking about parts of Connecticut. You're talking about Long Island. You're talking about New Jersey,” said Cuomo, who said those locations represents 6 percent of the entire U.S. population.

"Evacuation, I don’t believe, is even a feasible concept," Cuomo said.

The governor did not say that the plant should definitively be shut down, but he did say that if the nuclear power plant is eventually deemed too great a risk to continue to operate, alternative sources of energy would have to be found to replace the power. He admitted adequate replacement supplies do not exist right now.

Cuomo said new plants would have to be built. He said he does not believe that hydrofracking of natural gas deposits, which is under debate in New York, would be a reasonable replacement. He said it comes down to "what risk are you willing to live with" and that his threshold for that risk is likely much lower than that of the federal nuclear regulatory commission.

Cuomo's announcement was praised by the New York Public Interest Research Group. NYPIRG’s Laura Haight said the original decision to build the nuclear power plant over a fault line was "crazy."