New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman demanded Friday that federal nuclear regulators investigate the earthquake readiness of a nuclear power plant just north of New York City before they renew its license to operate. The Indian Point Energy Center, 24 miles from the city in Buchanan, N.Y., has been leaking water from a safety lining since 1993.
"It is beyond troubling that at the same time the federal government acknowledges increased seismic safety risk at some nuclear power plants in this country, it refuses to fully and openly assess these specific risks to Indian Point as part of its relicensing process," said Schneiderman at a press conference Friday, a week after a massive earthquake damaged nuclear reactors in Japan. "While the possibility of an intense earthquake is low, the potential for harm is so catastrophic that it has to be taken into account. . . . We are adamant that the relicensing of Indian Point not go forward until seismic risks are evaluated."
In 2007 Entergy, the Louisiana-based company that runs Indian Point, applied for a 20-year license extension for its operating reactors. The decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is expected in 2013. In a letter to the NRC, Schneiderman declared that the agency must amend its regulations to include seismicity in the scope of its licensing review.
Entergy says the site can withstand a 6.0 quake. Two fault lines intersect just north of Indian Point, but the biggest earthquake in New York in the past 70 years measured 5.8 and occurred near the Canadian border.
Both Schneiderman and his predecessor as attorney general, current New York governor Andrew Cuomo, have been harsh critics of the plant because of the potential danger it poses to those living nearby. More than 20 million people live within 50 miles of its two operating reactors. Cuomo ordered a state safety review of the plant Thursday.
In a move that may complicate the relicensing, the state has denied a request for water-quality certification of the plant, saying that the cooling plants "do not and will not comply with existing New York State water quality standards."
Schneiderman said he is also concerned about the spent fuel rods that are currently in a decommissioned reactor on site. "We know from Japan that there is long-term risk from nuclear waste stored at Indian Point," said Schneiderman.
An NRC spokesperson declined to comment to ABC News about Schneiderman's statements, but said that the agency would respond to the Attorney General's letter after reviewing it.
Indian Point, where the first reactor was licensed in 1962, has been controversial for decades. In 1979, Roberty Ryan, director of the NRC's Office of State Programs, told a presidential commission, "I think it is insane to have a three-unit reactor on the Hudson River in Westchester County, 40 miles from Times Square, 20 miles from the Bronx. "
"I'm sorry," said Ryan. "I just don't think that that's the right place to put a nuclear facility."
More than 30 years later, Indian Point has become the focal point of government and scientific community pressure to repair or shut many of the nation's aging and leaking plants. Indian Point is one of dozens of U.S. plants with licenses scheduled to expire by 2015.