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New quake rules urged for N-plant licenses

The earthquake resistance of the Indian Point nuclear power plants should be considered as regulators weigh a request for new licenses that will keep the plants working into the 2030s, the state attorney general said Friday.

In a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Eric Schneiderman said the nuclear-plant crisis in Japan "serves as a graphic demonstration that nuclear power facilities in the U.S. may be vulnerable to seismic activity."

He said existing regulations allow the NRC to ignore quake safety when considering an application for a new license at an existing plant. Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3, on the Hudson River 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan, are licensed through 2013 and 2015, respectively.

The NRC has never denied a new license.

Commission spokeswoman Diane Screnci said the NRC would "review the attorney general's request and respond back to him."

Jerry Nappi, a spokesman for Indian Point owner Entergy Nuclear, said this week that the plants can "withstand an earthquake greater in size than this area has ever experienced." He said they are not susceptible to the type of earthquake or the tsunami that damaged the Japanese plants.

An ongoing NRC study has shown that seismic safety risks at some U.S. plants have increased but remain small, Screnci said.

"At about a quarter of the plants in the country, we're going to do further analysis," she said.

But Schneiderman said at a Manhattan news conference that the NRC "refuses to fully and openly assess these specific risks to Indian Point as part of its relicensing process. Before any conversation about relicensing is concluded, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must answer basic health and safety questions."

The attorney general said he wants the NRC to amend its regulations to require a seismic analysis when reactors apply for new licenses. He also wants the commission to take into account recent earthquake studies in the Indian Point area. A 2008 study, for example, found that many small faults that were believed to be inactive could contribute to a major, disastrous earthquake.

Schneiderman is among a number of politicians who have called for new assessments of reactor safety in the context of the Japan crisis. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is reviewing quake data for Indian Point, and President Obama has ordered a "comprehensive review" of the safety of all U.S. nuclear plants.

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