Cuomo is worried that if, God forbid, there were an accident or problem at the plant, there is no way the 17 million people in the 50-mile evacuation zone could leave, or protect themselves.
Fukushima is about 150 miles from Tokyo, but Indian Point is only 35 miles from NYC, and the fast moving Hudson River flows south from the plant to the city.
It’s hard to fathom the harm a Fukushima-level disaster at Indian Point would have on NYC, and the entire US economy.
How safe can Indian Point be? Like other US nuclear facilities, its personnel drill endlessly on two-foot thick manuals, and simulated control rooms. But gaskets still blow, engines overheat, water leaks and humans make mistakes. And even the best training cannot overcome the design flaws in the 40-year-old buildings.
When I toured the plant recently, I was surprised to see that the highly radioactive spent fuel pool is located in the equivalent of a Quonset hut, not under the reinforced cement containment dome that covers the nuclear reactor.
I asked a nuclear engineer, David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists why this fuel is stored in such a vulnerable structure.
This is his reply:
When Indian Point and other plants were designed, spent fuel was expected to remain on site for only a few months before being shipped offsite for reprocessing. Consequently, spent fuel storage was deemed a temporary measure not warranting the protection reserved for permanent hazards. Also, a loss of water inventory or a sustained loss of cooling that allows the pool’s water to boil away was not considered credible, so there’s no design measures to mitigate it. The only postulated accident involving the spent fuel pool was an irradiated fuel assembly being dropped while in transit in the pool. The dropped assembly strikes fuel assemblies stored in the racks below damaging some fuel rods.
Because loss of water inventory events are deemed impossible, the building housing the spent fuel pool is designed for external threats (high winds, snow accumulation on its roof, etc.) and not the hazard from vapor and hydrogen emitted from a spent fuel pool in distress. This narrow focus resulted in the buildings around the spent fuel pools being designed to basic industrial codes similar to those used to design Wal-Marts rather than the more stringent nuclear codes.
I wrote an article for SNL about Indian Point after my tour that discussed what the plant owner, Entergy, is doing to keep the plant open.