Even the nuclear industry acknowledges that all nuclear power plants pose a risk to surrounding populations. No plant can be called 100 percent safe.
But some are worse than others.
Take a look at Indian Point in Buchanan, New York—the site of two 40-year-old nuclear reactors just 24 miles from Manhattan. Here is just one staggering fact: Twenty million people, or 6 percent of the U.S. population, reside within 50 miles of the facility—a facility that federal regulators acknowledge has an "unworkable" area evacuation plan in the event of a fast-acting disaster..
In recent weeks, the events at Fukushima have renewed longstanding calls to close the facility. (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calls the plant a "catastrophe waiting to happen.")
The Japan disaster has brought to the public's greater attention some disturbing safety issues at the Indian Point reactors. Many have been highlighted before by Riverkeeper, a major New York region environmental group that has long championed the issues of Indian Point and is posting their latest campaign on Change.org.
For example, a 2008 study by Columbia University seismologists found a small but real risk for Indian Point to experience an earthquake as large 7.0 on the Richter scale.
The plant's owner, Entergy, admits it can’t handle an earthquake of this magnitude. At best, the plant could withstand a magnitude 6.1 earthquake, which is 30 times less powerful than a 7.0.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission now considers Indian Point the most dangerous plant in the country when it comes to the risk of meltdown due to earthquake.
That's only the beginning of the problems with Indian Point. New York officials also charge that the plant doesn't comply with fire safety regulations, which could prevent a safe emergency shutdown. The plant also stores its spent nuclear fuel rods in poorly protected on-site pools, a clearly unnecessary risk given the cooling problems we are seeing in Japan. In fact, federal regulators have a history of granting Indian Point's owners, Entergy, exemptions from safety regulations, including those involving fire safety, storage of spent fuel, and meltdown prevention.
For now, regulators have heeded Gov. Cuomo in pledging to make Indian Point a top priority in their new seismic study of all U.S. plants.
But that is not enough.
Currently, Entergy has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 20-year renewal for the licenses of the plant, which expire in 2013 and 2015.
Other countries, such as Germany, have responded to the disaster by temporarily shutting down risky nuclear reactors until safety reviews are complete. If planned correctly to make up the lost power supply, the U.S. could do the same with Indian Point.
A new study by Con Ed, the region's major electric utility, says closing the plant would only cost New Yorkers 18 cents a day.
Join Riverkeeper, a prominent New York region environmental group, in asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut down Indian Point until a safety review and a better spent fuel storage plan is complete. They are also asking the NRC to include a hard look at Indian Point's earthquake risk and evacuation plan as federal regulators consider license renewal.
Twenty million people aren't worth the risk. Sign the campaign and please forward to your friends.
Want to know about the latest opportunities for green activism? Follow Change.org's Environment cause on Facebook or Twitter.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Riverkeeper