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Indian Point Plant Safe, Japan Accident Unlikely, NRC Says

Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York is safe and a U.S. accident similar to Japan’s disaster is unlikely, federal officials told the state’s lieutenant governor, Robert Duffy.

“The robust design of U.S. plants makes it highly unlikely that a similar event could occur in the United States,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said today after its staff met with Duffy and other state officials.

The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami led New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to reiterate that the Indian Point reactors should be closed. The plant is about 24 miles (39 kilometers) north of New York City.

While a 2010 report found “slightly higher seismic risk for the Indian Point reactor,” it was “still within safety margins,” the NRC said. After the earthquake and tsunami, the agency “will look to see if there may be any safety enhancements needed for a number of plants, including Indian Point.”

New York officials can join the NRC at plant inspections and have access to the site’s seismic data, the agency said.

The NRC agreed to make Indian Point “its top priority,” Cuomo said today at a news conference in Albany, the capital. The state can’t close the power plant because the federal government has jurisdiction, Cuomo said. The NRC should shutter the plant because 20 million people live and work within 50 miles of its reactors, he said.

Evacuation Unfeasible

“I don’t think evacuation is a feasible conversation,” Cuomo, 53, said. As New York’s attorney general in 2007, Cuomo said it was “dangerously irresponsible” to let the nuclear plant along the Hudson River continue running.

New generators and power lines might be built to replace the electricity lost if the 2,045-megawatt plant is closed, Cuomo said. “You would find the power,” he said.

The two reactors at Entergy’s Indian Point plant began operating in 1974 and 1976, according to NRC data. The operating licenses are set to expire in 2013 and 2015, according to the NRC. Entergy has applied to extend the licenses for 20 years.

The NRC, which says U.S. reactors are designed to withstand earthquakes, tsunamis and natural disasters, announced yesterday a 90-day review of U.S. plant safety in light of Japan’s crisis. An initial report will be released after 30 days, the NRC said.

The agency granted a 20-year license extension yesterday to Entergy’s Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Vermont. The decision was based on reviews completed before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Entergy “welcomes Governor Cuomo’s call for a review of Indian Point” by NRC officials, Chanel Lagarde, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mail. “We strongly believe that knowing the facts will answer the public’s questions and will also clearly demonstrate that this facility is safe,” Lagarde said.

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