Last March, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake rattled the Pacific Ocean, unleashing a tsunami that inundated coastal areas of Japan. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant withstood the quake, but when it was hit by floodwaters, its cooling systems failed, the plant overheated and sections of it blew up, releasing high levels of radiation and forcing tens of thousands of people within 50 miles of the plant to flee. They may never return to their homes and businesses.
Fukushima Daiichi was designed to withstand floodwaters three stories high. The tsunami was four stories.
The New York metropolitan area has lived in the shadow of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant for five decades. The plant’s No. 2 and 3 reactors came online around the same time as Fukushima Daiichi, in the early 1970s. Indian Point Reactor No. 1, built in 1962, was shut down in 1974 because the emergency core cooling system did not meet federal regulatory requirements –– it didn’t have an emergency shutoff.
This summer, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on Indian Point, which is 38 miles north of New York City, to review its nearly 40-year-old operating licenses for Reactors No. 2 and No. 3, which will expire in 2013 and 2015, respectively. The new licenses, if approved, will remain in effect for 20 years. The NRC has yet to set a date for the hearing.
Long Islanders should pay close attention to the review process. Because the plant is on the other side of New York City, in Buchanan, in Westchester County, it might seem a world away, but it’s not; it’s about an hour-and-a-half drive. Nassau County’s South Shore is within a 50-mile radius of the plant. A catastrophe on the scale of Fukushima Daiichi would very likely send high levels of radiation our way.