Editorial: U.S. nuke plants ranked by risk of quake damage – and Midwest well up listPublished 10:54pm Wednesday, March 23, 2011
What are the odds that a nuclear emergency like the one at Fukushima Dai-ichi could happen in the central or eastern United States?
They’d have to be astronomical, right?
A pro-nuclear commentator on msnbc.com put it, “There’s a power plant just like these in Omaha. If it gets hit by a tsunami….”
But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission calculated the odds of an earthquake causing catastrophic failure to a nuclear plant.
Each year, at the typical nuclear reactor in the U.S., there’s a 1 in 74,176 chance that the core could be damaged by an earthquake, exposing the public to radiation.
That’s 10 times more likely than you winning $10,000 by buying a ticket in the Powerball multi-state lottery, where the chance is 1 in 723,145.
The nuclear reactor in the United States with the highest risk of core damage from a quake is not the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, with twin reactors between the California coastline and the San Andreas Fault.
It’s not the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, a four-hour drive down the Pacific coast at San Clemente, surrounded by fault lines on land and under the ocean.
It’s not on the Pacific Coast at all.
It’s on the Hudson River.
Indian River Energy Center is 24 miles north of New York City. There, on the east bank of the Hudson sits the highest risk of earthquake damage in the nation, according to new Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) risk assessments provided to msnbc.com.
Indian Point No. 3’s risk estimate is 1 in 10,000 each year. Under NRC guidelines, that’s right on the verge of requiring “immediate concern regarding protection of the public.” Reactors at Indian Point, licensed in 1976, generate up to a third of NYC’s electricity.
No. 2 is in Massachusetts, No. 3 in Pennsylvania — and it’s not Three Mile Island — followed by Tennessee, Florida, Virginia and South Carolina.
We’re well down the list before we even get to California’s Diablo Canyon.
Odds take into consideration two main factors — the chance of serious quakes and strength and design of the plant.
Nuclear plants built in areas usually thought of as earthquake zones, such as the California coastline, have surprisingly low risks of damage because they were constructed anticipating a major quake.
Midwest design standards may have been lower because earthquake risk was thought to be minimal.
The lowest risk is assigned to the Callaway Nuclear Plant in Fulton, Mo., 1 chance in 500,000.
So how about here?
D.C. Cook’s reactors in Bridgman rank 57 of 104 with 1 in 83,333 chances each year. The change in risk is not available.
In Van Buren County, Palisades in Covert ranks 77th with 1 in 156,250 chances each year. Its change in risk is also not available.
At No. 88 is Fermi 2 in Monroe with 1 in 238,095 chances each year, up from an old estimate of 1 in 625,000 — a 163-percent change in risk.
The lack of data about the nuclear reactors themselves poses a problem.
No one alive now can recall the South Carolina quakes of 1886, which toppled 14,000 Charleston chimneys and was felt in 30 states or the New Madrid quakes of 1811 and 1812 in Missouri and Arkansas, when the Mississippi River ran backward.
The NRC says the odds are in the public’s favor, but the margin of safety has been reduced by the new estimates published in August 2010.