Earthquakes are rare in New York. A tsunami is even more improbable. That is why nuclear industry representatives say a calamity of the scale now seen in Japan is unlikely around Indian Point in Westchester County.
“We believe Indian Point is safe. If we didn’t believe that we would shut them down,” said Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Diane Screnci.
Entergy, the company that operates nuclear reactors at Indian Point, also says it is safe.
“When I look at what happened in Japan, I say that is a very different situation than what we have here in New York,” said Jim Steets, a spokesman for Entergy, the company that operates nuclear reactors at Indian Point.
One NRC critic, former state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, is skeptical about its oversight at Indian Point.
“The NRC is to nuclear power what the SEC and the federal government were to Wall Street a three years ago when they were asleep at the switch and there was a meltdown,” said Brodsky, of Westchester County.
In 2009, Brodsky filed a lawsuit against the NRC after regulators exempted Entergy from a fire safety rule aimed at protecting the wires that help safely shut a reactor down in the event of an emergency.
The rule required electric cables be wrapped in insulation that would protect against flames for at least an hour in the event of a nuclear facility fire.
“The wires that control the reactor when it’s supposed to shut down are supposed to be insulated against fire for an hour. They tested the insulation and it only lasted for 24 minutes,” Brodsky said.
Representatives from the NRC and Entergy said the exemption was granted because there are other fire protection redundancies present at Indian Point.
A federal judge upheld the exemption on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said the NRC did a comprehensive safety evaluation that meets the underlying purpose to prevent, control and promptly extinguish fires and protect reactors.
Indian Point is approximately 35 miles north of Manhattan and it sits at the intersection of two seismic zones.
The potential of a significant earthquake gathered attention in 2008 after a Columbia University study discussed the possibility a quake in the region could exceed 6.2 on the Richter Scale, a level of force that could threaten the structural integrity of the reactors at Indian Point.
No earthquake in the New York area has ever been recorded above a 5.2.