Thursday, March 24, 2011

What's the Rush?

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that despite Governor Cuomo's urging they won't begin studying the earthquake risk at Indian Point until next year. Fred Dicker, in the New York Post (seriously) reports:

Hayden said the reason the NRC wasn't in a rush to get the data is "because this is really not a serious concern."

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Radioactive Waste Storage in New York: Here's Why

The Times explains why there's still a high-level radioactive waste site in the New York metropolitan area (namely at Indian Point), here.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Imagine if We Were Advised to Stay 50 Miles Away from Indian Point

U.S. officials have warned Americans in Japan to stay at least 50 miles away from the from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Peter Applebome points out in the Times this morning exactly which areas are within 50 miles of Indian Point -- essentially all of metropolitan New York.

He writes:

Try evacuating that on short — or long — notice.

“Many scholars have already argued that any evacuation plans shouldn’t be called plans, but rather ‘fantasy documents,’ ” Daniel P. Aldrich, a professor of political science at Purdue University and the author of “Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West,” said in an e-mail. They are often bureaucratic documents meant to meet policy requirements, not to work in the real world, he added.

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Earthquake Risk, Faults, Indian Point

Some people who seem to know what they're talking about think that the risk of an earthquake damaging the Indian Point nuke plants isn't worth worrying about. On the other hand, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the odds of an earthquake compromising the safety of Indian Point are 1,000 to 1 -- a long shot, certainly, but far from impossible.

Greg Clary wrote about it in today's Journal News.

At issue are a couple of fault lines that run near the plant, including the Ramapo faults. Here's what Greg reported:

The fault is actually a geological braid of fault lines running from the area of Clinton, N.J., to a mile or so west of the Buchanan nuclear plant, where it intersects with a second line that recent discoverers say runs between Stamford, Conn., and Peekskill....

But the U.S. Geological Survey — one of the nation's foremost research labs — said geologic evidence about the Ramapo Fault is "insufficient to demonstrate the existence of tectonic faulting or ... slip or deformation."

It didn't even include the fault in calculations of earthquake hazards in 2008.

Geology professor Alec Gates put it more succinctly: "The Ramapo Fault is dead," said Gates, chairman of Earth and environmental sciences at Rutgers University. "It was a big fault in the old days, but not anymore."...

What differentiates this region from more earthquake-prone areas, experts say, is that it lies in the middle of the North American Plate, a tectonic slab that encompasses North America to the Pacific Ocean, including Greenland, Cuba, the Bahamas, and parts of Siberia and Iceland.

"It's not a plate boundary; that's the primary reason you don't have activity and that it's hard to predict activity," said Paul Olsen, a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. "The formation of the Ramapo Fault was at least 300 million years ago. Most of the earthquakes around here have nothing to do with it."

Earthquake activity is greatest when boundaries of plate grind up against each other, pushing until one slips and the resulting movement accelerates out from the point until its energy dies out.

Earthquakes in the New York City metropolitan region don't rise very high on the Richter scale; the worst was a magnitude 5.2 event in 1884 that started in Far Rockaway, N.Y., and toppled chimneys in Suffern. The bigger ones are not that frequent.

Lamont-Doherty experts say the public should expect a magnitude 6.0 earthquake every 670 years, a 7.0 event every 3,400 years."

A few key points:

1. the Ramapo fault and its proximity to Indian Point might be irrelevant.

2. There are plenty of other active faults nearby -- one near Far Rockaway, for example, and another, which Greg doesn't mention, in Ardsley; it produced a magnitude 4.0 quake in 1985.

3. We can expect a magnitude 6 quake every 670 years and a 7 quake every 3,400 years. We may well be due for either of those.

But Greg also writes this, which I found worrisome:

The NRC's estimates for Indian Point, based on ground acceleration of earthquake energy, estimates there is a 1 in 1,000 chance that the reactors couldn't be shut down safely after an earthquake in this region.

What's comparable? The odds of catching a foul ball at a major league baseball game at a bit worse than 1 in 1,000. And yet everyone who goes to a ball game thinks they have a chance.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Here's Why Shutting Down Indian Point Will Keep Us Safer

How will shutting Indian Point down keep us safer? That's the question I asked earlier today, here.

Paul Gallay, Riverkeeper's executive director, responded promptly. It's a good answer, worth knowing. Here's what he wrote to me:

Closing the reactors will eliminate the possibility of core meltdown, which would reduce the risk of radiation release from Indian Point by roughly half.

Closing the reactors also would keep the issue of spent fuel storage at Indian Point from growing worse. Continued reactor operation, generating more and more spent fuel, would be an increasingly serious problem, as the spent fuel rods already are more tightly packed than they should be in the pools where they're stored. The fact that they are so tightly packed in these pools tremendously increases the risk of fire, should the pools become compromised.

Move the 1,500 tons of spent fuel currently stored at Indian Point out of these tightly-packed, leak-prone pools [located in a non-reinforced building] and into reinforced dry cask storage under earthen berms and you render it significantly less at risk for radioactive release due to exposure to the air or fire. We believe that this is feasible on site - roughly 10% of IP's spent fuel is stored on site in dry casks, but on a concrete pad which is not as good as beneath an earthen berm.

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How Will Shutting Down Indian Point Keep Us Safe?

What good will it do to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plants while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducts an assessment to see if the plants can withstand an earthquake, as Riverkeeper is calling for?

I don't pose that as a rhetorical question.

Indian Point is not just a facility with two operating nuclear power plants. It is also a significant nuclear waste site.

Every ounce of highly radioactive fuel produced and used at the plant since it opened in 1962 is still there. Some of the spent fuel is stored underwater, in pools. Some is stored in large concrete casks. A large amount is still being used in the reactors of Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3. Indian Point 1 was permanently shut down in 1974 but its spent fuel is still on the site.

Riverkeeper, in a statement I linked to yesterday, says:

It is our position that until Indian Point is proven safe, it should be closed. We are also calling for spent fuel to be moved out of the poorly-protected pools on site and into safer dry-cask storage.

So is Riverkeeper saying that the fuel that is now being used in IP 2 and 3 should be removed and stored in casks?

Are there enough casks on site for that to be practical?

How much safer are the casks than the pools that much of the spent fuel is stored in?

Or is it the case that the fuel in the reactors is safe and it's only the fuel in the pools that we have to worry about?

If the plants are shut down so the NRC can conduct a safety assessment, the highly radioactive fuel will still be there.

So how does shutting down the plants protect us from a disaster caused by an earthquake?

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Indian Point: Old, Dangerous, Unnecessary

In the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Japan, Paul Gallay, the executive director of Riverkeeper, sent me the following, about the Indian Point nuclear power plants in northwestern Westchester County. It's worth reading:

Since the nuclear disaster in Japan and revelations this week that the NRC staff believes Indian Point is the most at-risk nuke plant in the nation for core damage due to earthquake, Riverkeeper and public officials [Andrew Cuomo, for example] who are calling for IP to close finally have some real momentum.  News coverage is extensive and favorable.  We are seeing Indian Point's "brand" [Safe, Secure, Vital] being replaced with the truth: Indian Point is Old, Dangerous, Unnecessary.

Indian Point is near more people than any other U.S. nuke plant; it's older than dirt; there's no viable evacuation plan; it's got a rotten safety record and people are starting to weigh the risks now that they see the possible consequences unfolding halfway around the world.  It's time to connect the dots and close this thing!

Based on NRC analysis of USGS data, a quake causing core damage at IP in the next year is more likely than buying a powerball ticket and winning $100. Oh, and a 2008 Columbia University study concludes that IP is built at about the worst place in the NY Metro area for quakes and that a 7.0 is "quite possible."  What's Indian Point saying?  They're confident they can withstand a 6.1 quake, apparently oblivious to the fact that a 7.0 has thirty times more destructive energy. And, unlike Columbia and the NRC staff, Indian Point has supplied no proof to back up their own numbers.

Yet, NRC higher-ups refuse to pay attention to the dangers at Indian Point, telling Attorney General Eric Schneiderman yesterday that "nuclear power plants in the U.S. remain safe, with no need for immediate action," adding that all plants have a margin for safety. They've known since 2008 that isn't true at Indian Point.  Perhaps they think we can't handle the truth.  Or, maybe they don't even know the truth and are just repeating their same practiced, soothing fairytales. After all, the NRC Chairman admitted to NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday that he wasn't even aware of his own agency's September 2010 study showing how much more serious are the risks at Indian Point than previously understood!  

If you want to discuss this or perhaps offer us a comment, that would be great.  Your advice would be extremely welcome, too.  

Most immediately, we ask you to forward this link and share the following simple message by Facebook or Twitter, so the folks you know can learn the facts and take action:


Don't just take our word for it. Links to press and supporting studies are below.


Paul Gallay
Executive Director, Hudson Riverkeeper

Riverkeeper statement on why Indian Point must Close

Article reporting Indian Point as having the highest risk of core damage due to earthquake of any nuke plant in the country

Article in which Indian Point claims [without substantiation] it’s built to withstand a 6.1 magnitude earthquake, and the 2008 Columbia University study is cited to the effect that there’s a  7.0 risk [i.e., 32 times more powerful than IP claims the plant is built to withstand].  Note that the IP spokesman calls this area “practically non-seismic.”

Article in which Governor Cuomo calls for IP closure and NRC Chairman Jaczko admits he's not even aware of his own Commission's 2010 study on new dangers from quakes

Article by Columbia University about its Study saying Indian Point is built in about the worst spot for quake risk in the metro area.

2003 Study commissioned by Governor George Pataki, written by former FEMA head James Lee Witt, illustrating the inadequacies of IP's evacuation plan

Study analyzing the power usage savings achieved in California after their rolling blackouts and applying those results to New York

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