NRC Report: Nuclear Power Plants More Vulnerable to Earthquakes Than Previously Thought


February 2, 2012
Watch our recent film Nuclear Aftershocks for more on the nuclear power debate in the U.S. and abroad. And stay tuned for our upcoming film Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown, airing Feb. 28, which chronicles exactly what happened during those fateful few weeks last March.

After four years of research, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] came out yesterday with new analysis suggesting an increased risk of earthquakes in the eastern and central United States could leave some nuclear plants ill-prepared for a possible seismic event.

As a result, the NRC is requiring all 96 reactors in this region to undergo seismic stress tests to see if they comply with their new findings. They have four years to do so.

These new revelations come after two quakes in the past year tested the strength of nuclear facilities located near fault lines: last March’s 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and last August’s 5.8 earthquake in Virginia centered near the North Anna Power Station (pictured above), which withstood major damage.

“The reason it came out so well is its owner voluntarily upgraded its seismic protection when they knew about the hazard in the early ’90s,” the Union of Concerned Scientists’ David Lochbaum told FRONTLINE. Lochbaum called this latest NRC report a “bureaucratic stall tactic” since there are still more than 20 plants that don’t yet meet seismic standards set two decades ago.

One of these is the Indian Point Energy Center, whose New York location gives it proximity to both a fault line and a large population center: About 17 million people live within 15 miles of the plant, which is just 35 miles from Times Square. “We designed our plant to the worst earthquake ever recorded in this area and gave ourselves margins of over 100 times that,” Joe Pollock, Indian Point’s former vice president of operations, told FRONTLINE. Others, including Dr. Lynn Sykes, the man who discovered the fault line it sits near, are more concerned.

Indian Point, which is embroiled in a controversial license renewal, may have more pressing problems to worry about. Another key safety issue is how prepared a plant is for a possible fire — and the NRC yesterday rejected some of the voluntary procedures Indian Point developed case of a blaze. Currently, 47 reactors don’t meet the NRC’s fire protection regulations.

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

Former Worker Sues Tampa Lead Smelter Over Son’s Exposure
The worker alleges dusty conditions at Gopher Resource, Florida’s only lead factory, resulted in his son’s lead exposure.
June 2, 2021
A Handful of States Fueled a National Increase in Domestic Violence Shooting Deaths as COVID-19 Spread
More than 2,000 people were killed by domestic-violence-related shootings in 2020 — a 4% increase across the U.S. over 2019, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. But that uptick was not equally distributed.
June 2, 2021
The Designated Terrorist and the Fight Over the Future of Syria’s Last Opposition Stronghold
In 'The Jihadist,' Martin Smith becomes the first Western journalist to interview Syrian militant Abu Mohammad al-Jolani and investigates his rebranding efforts.
June 1, 2021
Their Brother Catalyzed a Movement in Utah Last Year. Now Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal’s Siblings Just Want Relief.
Last summer, activists in Utah chanted Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal’s name alongside George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
May 28, 2021