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Earthquakes send “wake-up” calls for nuke hazards at Seabrook and Indian Point

Two separate earthquakes in New York and New Hampshire are significant wake-up calls to address the continued operation of nuclear power plants with existing vulnerabilities and significant radiological hazards at the Indian Point (NY) and Seabrook (NH) stations. On February 7, 2018, an early morning earthquake (2.2 magnitude) rumbled through portions of Westchester and Putnam Counties where the Indian Point 2 & 3 nuclear power station is co-located with a giant fracking gas pipeline, and maybe a pipe-bomb generated by a large earthquake that ruptures the gas line and creates an ignitiion source. Then on Friday February 16th, another tremor (2.7 magnitude) shook portions of southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts around the Seabrook nuclear power station and the concrete containment structure is already crumbling like a bridge overpass. The recent earthquakes under these two reactor sites underscores the money-for-risk we are collectively gambling versus the unacceptable consequences of a severe accident.

Indian Point sits on intersecting fault lines along the Ramapo Earthquake Fault Zone and right next to a 42-inch diameter fracking gas pipeline. The threat of a large earthquake affecting the operations of the nuclear power station and/or its adjacent gas pipeline continues to mobilize public opposition to the combined threat. Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory believes this fault zone can produce a 7-magnitude earthquake. A section of the gas pipeline that traverses the reactor site comes as close as 105-feet to one of the reactor’s critical safety-related structures. Independent analyses estimate an explosion on the high-pressure pipeline could produce a blast radius of 4000-feet. Even though Indian Point is scheduled to cease operations by 2021, the risk of a combined catastrophe exists from thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste still packed into high-density storage pools, with nowhere to go.  

Nine days later, a 2.7 magnitude earthquake shook the 10-mile emergency planning zone for New Hampshire and Massachusetts communities around the Seabrook nuclear power station.  Seabrook Station is under international scientific scrutiny as the first U.S. reactor to be identified with degradation of safety-related concrete structures including the reactor’s foundation, the pressure containment and its irradiated fuel storage pool, that are damaged and weakened by alkali silica reaction (ASR).  Water intrusion into the concrete structures is chemically reacting with cement compounds to create an expansive gel and microscopic cracking. After nearly 27-years of operation, the age-related cracking has already resulted in an estimated 30% loss of compression and tensile strength in portions of the concrete. Even small earthquakes can accelerate the cracking induced by the chemical reaction further weakening structures vital to containing the inherent danger of nuclear power. Seabrook Station is in the middle of a twenty-year license renewal battle before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A public safety group, otherwise focused on the independent radiological monitoring of the nuclear power station, the C-10 Education and Research Foundation, is challenging the reactor’s operating license extension. C-10 has won standing and contentions before the NRC licensing board for a hearing on safety concerns from unmanaged ASR degradation.Natalie Hildt-Treat, executive director of C-10, was quoted, “You would think a measurable earthquake would put further stress on that,” she said. “Little cracks can lead to bigger cracks ... it’s definitely a safety concern.”