Editor's note: An earlier version of this report misquoted Indian Point spokesman Jerry Nappi about the potential for damage. Patch regrets the error.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2010 reassessed all 104 nuclear power plants in the country, according to a report by msnbc.com that created a set of rankings and put Indian Point's Reactor 3 at No. 1 for risk of core damage from a quake.
Indian Point 2, the other working reactor, is ranked No. 25 on the msnbc.com list.
"The chance of a core damage from a quake at Indian Point 3 is estimated at 1 in 10,000 each year. Under NRC guidelines, that's right on the verge of requiring 'immediate concern regarding adequate protection' of the public. The two reactors at Indian Point generate up to one-third of the electricity for New York City. The second reactor, Indian Point 2, doesn't rate as risky, with 1 chance in 30,303 each year," msnbc.com reported. The risk for Indian Point 2 was reassessed 72 percent up from the NRC's initial assessment of 1 in 17,241 in 1989.
On the risk list, No. 2 is the Pilgrim 1 facility in Plymouth, Mass. Read more about
Ranked third by msnbc.com was the nuclear power plant in Limerick, PA.
A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Neil Sheehan, tthat "The NRC does not rank plants by seismic risk."
"Currently operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. remain safe, with no need for immediate action. This determination is based on NRC staff reviews of updated seismic hazard information and the conclusions of the screening panel. Existing plans were designed with considerable margin to be able to withstand the ground motions from the largest earthquake expected in the area around the plant."
"The potential of 1 in 10,000 simply means there is a potential occurrence for fuel to be damaged—not a release of radiation—once in 10,000 years. We don't plan to be operating that long," said Jerry Nappi, spokesman for Entergy at Indian Point.
No experts predict a similar scenario as happened in Japan: an 9.0 magnitude earthquake followed by a cataclysmic tsunami that killed thousands and sent plumes of radioactive steam into the air this week from meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
Japan had been top-rated for its disaster preparedness and evacuation drills. Most New Yorkers say they feel ill-prepared for a nuclear accident. An accident at Indian Point could expose a dense population of more than 10 million people to radiation.
Linda Szoboszlai, a mother of two accustomed to traffic jams between New York City and her home in Croton-on-Hudson five miles from the plants, said that “if there’s an explosion, I’m staying home. There’s nowhere to go.”
Seismologists disagree about Indian Point’s vulnerability.
While the Japanese islands form part of the much mapped and observed “Ring of Fire,” an active tectonic zone where plates shift constantly, Indian Point like the rest of the Lower Hudson Valley is at the north end of the Ramapo Fault System.
Allen Ludman, chair of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Queens College, City University of New York, said the largest earthquake in recent history to rattle the New York City area measured in at a magnitude of 4.0 and occurred in 1985.
It caused no damage to the Indian Point plants designed to withstand a 6.0 magnitude earthquake, a force 1,000 times more powerful than the 1985 quake, said Nappi.
“That seems like a reasonable hypothesis and may be over-engineered,” Ludman said.
Some disagree. A study released in 2008 by seismologists at the Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Rockland County discussed the location of Indian Point nuclear power plants at a previously unidentified intersection between two active seismic zones.
The reports’ authors calculated a 1.5 percent chance that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, a force 32 times the amount the Indian Point plants were designed to withstand, could occur within the next 50 years.
“Indian Point is situated…in the midst of a large population,” said the report’s author Lynn R. Sykes. “This is clearly one of the least favorable sites in our study area from an earthquake hazard and risk perspective.”
However, Alan Kafka of the department of geology and geophysics at Boston College, said of the new and revised earthquake data in the 2008 report: "the existence of the proposed seismic zone is not so clear, and the distribution of epicenters lends itself to many possible conjectures of hypothetical fault zones, all of which are based on circumstantial evidence. None of these hypotheses can be considered as “concrete evidence” that the site of the Indian Point nuclear power plant is necessarily any more seismically active than many other sites in the study area."
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant catastrophe draws a national spotlight to several nuclear power facilities, including Indian Point, Pilgrim 1, the Limerick plant in Pennsylvania and the San Onofre compound in California.
Entergy’s efforts to renew its Indian Point Units 2 and 3 licenses set to expire in 2013 and 2015. Back in December, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced a preliminary decision that no environmental impact exists to prevent the power plant from getting relicensed for another 20 years.
But the Japanese nuclear disaster has spurred investors concerned about what Businessinsider.com describes as a “relicensing bubble,” a delay or denial of relicensing caused by increased scrutiny of plant’s safeguards, to begin to pull out. Entergy Corporation stocks dropped nearly $6 a share since Monday, according to trading data.
Politicians, meanwhile, are demanding increased scrutiny at the plant’s safety.
Linda Puglisi, supervisor of the Town of Cortlandt where the plant resides, said that while she believes Entergy Corp. has made the facility safer since it purchased the plants in 2001, “we'll be asking questions also in light of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.”
Paul Feiner, the Greenburgh town supervisor, was more direct. “I believe that we’re ignoring warning signs,” he said.
And Congresswoman Nita Lowey, D-Westchester/Rockland, said that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “should not consider relicensing Indian Point reactors 2 and 3…until the risk the public faces has been addressed.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who in the past argued against the relicensing of Indian Point, has ordered a safety review of the facility in the wake of the events in Japan.
Nappi, the plant's spokesman, responded:
"Indian Point is designed to withstand an earthquake greater in size than the area has ever experienced. The NRC recently stated that “operating nuclear power plants are safe and that every plant is designed with a margin of safety beyond the strongest earthquake anticipated in the area.” The reason the risk is low for Indian Point is partly because of the geology and tectonics of the East Coast region. Indian Point is neither susceptible to the type of earthquake that occurred in Japan, nor the tsunami that followed that ultimately removed the cooling capability of the Japanese plant. Nevertheless, over the next 30 days, as part of an industry initiative, Indian Point will be performing a comprehensive review of the plant’s ability to respond to catastrophic events."
Joan Naccari of Cortlandt doesn't think any nuclear plants are safe, echoing a recurring fear of many who are skeptical of the scientific evidence.
"I'd rather have taxes go up than have a nuclear plant near me. As soon as a nuclear plant goes up breast cancer goes up," Naccari said. "The people who are staying in Japan are on a suicide mission, all the work they are doing is for nothing."