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NRC Sets Priority List For Detailing Seismic Risk

WAMC, Allison Dunne

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a priority list for nuclear power plants when it comes to detailing earthquake risk. The NRC is requiring more analysis about seismic risk from a number of plants, including Indian Point.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan says all nuclear power plants had to re-evaluate their seismic risk following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. Now, Buchanan-based Indian Point has been listed in the NRC’s Priority Group 1, as has Pilgrim, in Massachusetts. Sheehan says plants in this category have both a relatively large increase in seismic hazard and a relatively large new ground motion estimate. He says nuclear power plants submitted analyses of seismic vulnerability at the end of March and based on this information, the NRC has priority groups.

“We have now prioritized those submittals in terms of our review,” says Sheehan. “And the reason we’ve done that is because there are a limited number of seismologists who would work in the area and would really be able to apply their skills to assessing whether or not the company got all of the correct issues, used the models appropriately, and adhered to the criteria that was established for these kinds of reviews.”

Sheehan says Indian Point parent Entergy, in its submittals, notes that it has already reduced the size of the plant stack from 390 feet to 202 feet in elevation. The stack was a high seismic risk contributor for Indian Point 2. Phillip Musegaas is Hudson River Program Director at environmental group Riverkeeper, which wants Indian Point shut down. He says the NRC should have acted more stringently about seismic risk before Fukushima.

“I mean it’s 2014 now, it’s three years after Fukushima, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still proposing to give Entergy another three years to complete an analysis which they should have done years ago,” says Musegaas. “So I think there’s absolutely no reason why they should not be required to do this immediately and to be able to tell the public that the plant can withstand an earthquake. And actually there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that it can’t.”

Sheehan says the priority grouping is not a risk ranking and the NRC continues to have confidence that plants can operate safely while more analyses are performed. Jerry Nappi is spokesman for Indian Point parent Entergy Nuclear.

“The two-year long study that we filed last year demonstrates that we are protected from an earthquake many times greater than has ever occurred at this location,” says Nappi. “So we’ll go back and, based on the NRC’s letter from last week, we will perform an additional analysis to demonstrate the seismic protections and capabilities that both Unit 2 and Unit 3 have.”

He says Entergy embarked upon that study on its own, to disprove what it saw as an erroneous cable news report in 2011 about Unit 3. Again, Riverkeeper’s Musegaas.

“I don’t think Entergy has made its case that the plant can all of a sudden can magically withstand a much greater earthquake even though it was designed for something much less,” says Musegaas. “They need to do a lot more to convince the public of that.”

Congresswoman Nita Lowey is the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. Her district includes Indian Point.

“It is essential that Indian Point stay on that priority list, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must be sure to do the appropriate tests, the appropriate evaluation, and get back to the public that lives in a 50-mile radius,” says Lowey. “You can’t guess, you can’t make approximate statements. We need the facts.”

She says many types of risks, including seismic, are what prompted her to author the Nuclear Power Licensing Reform Act of 2011, which, among other requirements, would prohibit a reactor’s operating license from being renewed if seismic evidence proves that the plant would not have originally received the license. Sheehan says NRC inspectors examined U.S. nuclear plants post-Fukushima to ensure none was in need of immediate attention for any earthquake or flooding concerns.

Indian Point, as well as Pilgrim and eight other plants, must develop the more detailed seismic assessments and submit these to the NRC by June of 2017.

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