Indian Point Not Only Seismically at Risk, Also a Fire Trap

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There's more troublesome news coming out of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Last week, we spoke to Columbia University disaster expert Klaus Jacob about vulnerability at the Westchester County plant, which supplies around 20 percent of New York City's power.

Today, we learned that the aging plant -- located just 38 miles north of the city -- is violating fire safety violations. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to force the agency to take action against the plant's owners for its failure to comply with the agency's own fire safety rules.

The AG says that right now, the plant:

--has failed to install certain required fire detectors or fire suppression systems
--has neglected to strengthen electrical cables to withstand fire damage for one to three hours
--hasn't installed automatic emergency response systems.

As Jacob explained last week, the plant is also the most vulnerable to an earthquake of any plant in the country.

The reactor's operating license expires in 2015, and the plant owners are vying for a new license that will extend 20 years after that. Scheiderman says the NRC has not considered seismic risk in its re-licensing process. (The NRC, by the way, has never denied a re-licensing petition to any facility in the country.) With officials from the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo in Washington last week, the NRC promised it would make seismic risk factors a top priority, but -- as far as we can tell -- did not explicitly say whether seismic risk would be a condition of the re-licensing.

Jacob says the seismic risk to the plant is already well-known. And it would cost upward of a billion dollars to retrofit the plant to make it less vulnerable. It would be more practical to just find a new source of power, he says.

Like Governor Cuomo, Jacob thinks the best thing would be to shut the plant down. Unlike Cuomo, Jacob would wait until the license expires, and cross our fingers that an earthquake doesn't happen between now and 2015.


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