10 Riskiest Nuclear Power Plants in America

As we watch the continuing catastrophe in Japan unfold with no clear expectations of the outcome, one thing is for certain: The safety of nuclear power has become a hot topic of conversation. While some countries are shutting down plants, many other are reevaluating the safety of theirs and strategizing over future plans.

In the U.S. we have 104 nuclear reactors. What are the chances that any of them could be home to an emergency like that at Fukushima Dai-ichi? The west coast would seem most at risk, given the busy San Andreas Fault. But an MSNBC analysis of data from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) places the odds of an earthquake disabling the core of reactor elsewhere.

The NRC has calculated the odds of a quake causing catastrophic failure to a nuclear plant and has determined that for the typical nuclear reactor in the U.S., there is a 1 in 74,176 chance each year that the core could be damaged by an earthquake badly enough to leak radiation. As MSNBC puts it, that’s 10 times more likely than you winning $10,000 by buying a ticket in the Powerball multistate lottery, where the chance is 1 in 723,145. The odds take into consideration two main factors: the chance of a serious quake, and the strength of design of the plant.

In the ranking one would expect the top spot to go to the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, with its twin reactors nestled in between the Pacific coastline and the San Andreas Fault; or the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, amidst fault lines on land and under the ocean. But no and no. Nuclear power plants built on the California coastline have a lower risk of damage from earthquakes than those in other areas because they were designed and built with earthquakes in mind.

Meanwhile, plants in the East, South and Midwest, where earthquake risk wasn’t as highly considered in the design, now find themselves at the top of the NRC’s risk list. Why? Because geologists have learned a lot about the dangers of earthquakes in these areas. New faults have been found, and new computer models have changed predictions for how earthquakes may occur. According to MSNBC, the latest estimates are drawn from the 2008 maps of the U.S. Geological Survey. Of special note, the USGS said, was an allowance for waves of large earthquakes in the New Madrid fault area roughly centered on the Missouri Bootheel, as well as inclusion of offshore faults near Charleston, S.C., and new data from the mountains of East Tennessee.

The ratings, number 1 being the riskiest, are fascinating in that they also include the increase of risk (when available) based on how the USGS data changed from 1989 to 2008.

10. Three Mile Island, Middletown, Pa.
Risk: 1 in 25,000
Old estimate: 1 in 45,455
Increase in risk: 82 percent

9. Diablo Canyon 1 and 2, Avila Beach, Calif.
Risk: 1 in 23,810
Old estimate: N/A

8. Oconee 1, 2 and 3, Seneca, S.C.
Risk: 1 in 23,256
Old estimate: 1 in 100,000
Increase in risk: 330 percent

7. North Anna 1 and 2, Louisa, Va.
Risk: 1 in 22,727
Old estimate: 1 in 31,250
Increase in risk: 38 percent

6. Saint Lucie 1 and 2, Jensen Beach, Fla
Risk: 1 in 21,739
Old estimate: N/A

5. Beaver Valley 1, Shippingport, Pa.
Risk: 1 in 20,833
Old estimate: 1 in 76,923
Increase in risk: 269 percent

4. Sequoyah 1 and 2, Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.
Risk: 1 in 19,608
Old estimate: 1 in 102,041
Increase in risk: 420 percent

3. Limerick 1 and 2, Limerick, Pa.
Risk: 1 in 18,868
Old estimate: 1 in 45,455
Increase in risk: 141 percent

2. Pilgrim 1, Plymouth, Mass.
Risk: 1 in 14,493
Old estimate: 1 in 125,000
Increase in risk: 763 percent

1. Indian Point 3, Buchanan, N.Y.
Risk: 1 in 10,000 chance each year
Old estimate: 1 in 17,241
Increase in risk: 72 percent

The reactor with the highest risk rating for earthquake damage in the country is a mere 24 miles north of New York City, the country’s most populous metropolitan area. With a chance of a core damage from a quake estimated at 1 in 10,000 each year, under NRC guidelines, that’s right on the verge of requiring “immediate concern regarding adequate protection” of the public. The two reactors at Indian Point generate up to thirty percent of the electricity for New York City. It will be interesting to see, given the new risk assessments, how the future of Indian Point and the rest of the risky bunch pans out.

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Alsia T.
Past Member 11 months ago

Your blogs are easily accessible and quite enlightening so keep doing the amazing work guys. atom map

Charlie Rush
Charlene Rush12 months ago

Not enough people appear to care about this issue, unless these power plants are in their back yard.

Fi T.
Fi T.2 years ago

Is it really the safest?

Russell R.
Russell R.2 years ago

Clean Energy - what a Joke! Just danger of transporting this Clean Energy nuclear waste is an extreme hazard by rail and trucks passing through our cities in the dark of night on its way to Utah. What is really being transported is a "Dirty Bomb!" Just marked as hazardous waste, unprotected, so as, not to bring any abnormal attention to it. It is only a matter of time before it happens, naturally, or by a terrorist. 104 Reactors and all that waste headed to Utah. That is what they call, "Clean Energy?" Not in My Book! That is a disaster waiting to happen and with every day the odds get better!

Betsy Bee
Fiona Ogilvie3 years ago

Nuclear power plants to generate power are not the only threat of radioactive disaster in the United States. What about the plants that produced the radioactive material for the bombs the United States built during the Cold War?

The Savannah River Site, where bomb grade plutonium was produced, has now been reactivated to produce plutonium for sale to power producing plants. The world is becoming wise to these dangers. Who will want to purchase something like plutonium?

The Savannah River Site stores a great deal of plutonium. It is on a fault line. Google: Savannah River Site. This is so scary and, sadly, so real.

Julie H.
Julie Hoffman3 years ago

These are ugly.

Zack D.
Zack D.3 years ago

http://realitycheck.no-ip.info/nnn.html Check out updated nuclear news now

Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak3 years ago

Sandy K is right on. There is also the construction defects that were okayed by the NRC during construction. I worked inside three plants NOT on this list and I can turn your hair grey with defect problems that I found, as a Quality Control Nuclear Inspector.

Sandy K.
Sandy K.3 years ago

This report only takes into account earthquakes. There's no mention of design flaws (Fukushima a boiling water reactor has a number of them and saw different attempts to correct even as they were being constructed), floods (Iowa has seen 2 500-year floods in about 15 years), tornadoes (had they really taken into account the kind Joplan saw last year when these were built?), terrorism (many reactors in the US like the one at Fukushima have extremely volatile spent fuel rods packed way too close together in pools of water high in the air with minimal protection) and the big one - corporate corner cutting on maintenance. This last one is the most ominous and the Price-Anderson Act of 1957 set a limit on the liability of nuclear plants if they blow radiation all over. As no insurance company would touch the liability, the government needed to step in with taxpayer backing so as to promote perhaps the most dangerous experiment of our lifetimes.
There hasn't been a commercial nuclear facility built in since 1977 for good reason and they aren't just economic.
Oh, and if you think you're safe because a nuke near you isn't on the list, consider that Greece took more radioactive fallout than many points in between it and Chernobyl, about 1,000 miles away.
Don't get me started on evacuation plans or spent fuel storage....

Caroline W.
Caroline W.4 years ago

I would have thought we would have learnt something from Japan. I would, personally, like to see all nuclear plants shut down. Coal might have a lot of problems, but NONE of those problems are nearly as dangerous as reactors are. I feel like we are all sitting on top of landmines. One wrong move, and BOOM....!