New York, NRC Set to Meet About Indian Point Plant Safety

Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point nuclear-power plant needs tighter regulation because of its proximity to New York City, a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists said before a meeting between state officials and U.S. regulators to discuss the facility.

“Indian Point is special,” Edwin Lyman, a physicist with the group, said on a conference call with reporters yesterday. It is one of “a handful of plants in the U.S. with extremely high population densities within 50 miles and we’ve always said those should get additional regulatory attention.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission should re-examine its assumptions about safety, especially for plants in densely populated areas, said Lyman, whose 250,000-member organization advocates responsible treatment of the environment.

New York Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy and other state officials will meet with the commission to discuss how an earthquake might affect Indian Point, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. The plant is about 24 miles (38 kilometers) north of New York City, whose more than 8 million residents make it the most populous in the U.S.

Cuomo last week expressed surprise at reports that the plant, which opened in 1962, was the most vulnerable to an earthquake of all U.S. nuclear facilities. Regulators have been concerned after Japan’s struggles to avert a disaster at a power plant crippled last week by a tsunami and the 9.0 magnitude temblor off the northeastern coast.

Gauging Danger

The March 22 gathering was set up by the White House at Cuomo’s request, the governor’s office said in an e-mailed statement. It will include Howard Glaser, director of New York state operations, the statement said. The gathering will be in Washington, said Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman.

The meeting is intended to determine Indian Point’s earthquake vulnerabilities, preparedness and risk assessment, according to the statement. Rich Bamberger, a spokesman for the governor, could not immediately say where the meeting would be.

U.S. nuclear power plants that store thousands of metric tons of spent atomic fuel pose risks of a crisis like the one unfolding in Japan, where crews are battling to prevent a meltdown of stored fuel, nuclear safety experts said.

U.S. nuclear plants had an estimated 63,000 metric tons (138.9 million pounds) of spent fuel stored on site as of January 2010, according to a report from the NRC. About 2,000 metric tons a year is expected to be added to that total, the NRC said.

‘Should Be Closed’

The reactors supply 25 percent of the power used by the city and suburban Westchester County. They are designed to withstand at least a magnitude 6 earthquake, said Jerry Nappi, a plant spokesman. A magnitude 7 earthquake in the region is possible, based on the features of two identified fault lines in the area, according to scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Cuomo said in a March 16 press conference in Albany that while he was New York’s attorney general, he’d concluded Indian Point shouldn’t have been issued a new license and “should be closed.”

An emergency plan for the evacuation of about 320,000 people within a 10-mile radius of the plant is evaluated every two years by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to Nappi. The plan was approved last year.

“You cannot move that many people in the amount of time required because there aren’t that many roads,” said Paul Gallay, executive director of Riverkeeper Inc., an environmental watchdog group based in Ossining, New York, that says the evacuation plan isn’t adequate.

Liner Leak

Separately, the NRC has been aware of a leak in the liner of a refueling cavity at Indian Point since 1993 and yet allowed the plant to continue operating, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The liner was installed to prevent leaking of radioactive material during an earthquake and the chances of that equipment fulfilling its safety function is “nil,” the report said.

“We believe Indian Point is capable of withstanding the most significant historical earthquake for that area,” said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC.

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