Japan quake may alter where U.S. builds nuke plants

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 12:58 PM
Japan quake may alter where U.S. builds nuke plants

By Vicki Allen and Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Japan's nuclear crisis will influence where the United States builds its nuclear power plants, and the operation of a facility near New York City will be reviewed in the wake of the disaster, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Sunday.

"Certainly where we site reactors -- and where we site reactors going forward -- will be different than where we might have sited them in the past," Chu said on "Fox News Sunday."

Japan restored power to a crippled nuclear reactor on Sunday at the Fukushima power plant wrecked by an earthquake and tsunami in a step seen as crucial to attempts to cool it down and limit the leak of deadly radiation.

The crisis in Japan has prompted nations around the world to review their own nuclear power efforts.

President Barack Obama said on Thursday he has ordered a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear facilities, maintaining his support for nuclear energy while seeking to apply lessons from the situation in Japan.

Asked whether the Indian Point plant, located about 40 miles north of New York City, should continue operations in light of the events in Japan, Chu said, "We're going to have to look at whether this reactor should remain."

But Chu added that the decision was up to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and he believed the plant, owned by Entergy Corp, is safe.

Chu also said evacuation plans for the densely populated area surrounding the plant will be reviewed.

The Indian Point plant in New York, on the banks of the Hudson River, could endanger 20 million people within a 50 mile- radius, including 8 million in New York City, if there were an accident on the scale of what occurred at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The Indian Point plant is situated near two geological fault lines. Entergy said it was built to withstand a 6.0 magnitude earthquake. The quake off Japan's coast that triggered a massive tsunami was a much-larger 9.0 magnitude.

NRC DECISION

Asked whether continuing operations at Indian Point is in doubt, Chu said, "It's an NRC decision, but the NRC will be looking at that I'm sure based on the events" in Japan.

Twenty-three reactors currently operating in the United States are of the same design as the crippled reactors in Japan, but Chu said "there have been upgrades in the safety of those reactors and that's a process the NRC continues to do."

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, interviewed on the U.S. cable TV channel C-SPAN, said the United States is taking a "systematic and methodical" look at the Japanese nuclear crisis to learn from the disaster at the Fukushima power plant.

"We will probably do some kind of short look in the near term just to re-examine the existing fleet of reactors and then probably a much longer look based on accurate information we get from Japan," Jaczko said.

Jaczko said renewals of U.S. nuclear plants' licenses would not be held up by the longer-term review, which he said he expected would be finished in less than a year.

"We don't intend to wait for (a) renewed license period. If there are lessons we need to learn, we will take those lessons and implement them right away if we need to. That would apply to all of the plants in the country, not just those that are similar to plants in Japan."

Jaczko also said U.S. authorities would proceed with licensing of Entergy's Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which is the same design as Japan's Fukushima plant.

Chu, asked on CNN's "State of the Union" program whether the worst was over in Japan's nuclear crisis, said, "Well, we believe so, but I don't want to make a blanket statement."

Chu said if there is a breach in one of the reactors' containment vessels, "it would be a limited breach."

Chu also said he has seen no evidence that Japanese authorities have held back information on the nuclear crisis.

"We are getting information from them. We have confidence in that information," Chu said.

Jaczko also said there are indications that radiation levels at the Japanese plant are declining.

(Editing by Will Dunham)