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10 Riskiest Nuclear Power Plants in America

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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.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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11:51PM PST on Dec 24, 2014

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

12:58PM PST on Nov 29, 2014

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

4:07AM PDT on Aug 12, 2013

Is it really the safest?

6:15PM PDT on Mar 17, 2013

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!

2:01PM PDT on Nov 2, 2012

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.

5:58PM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

These are ugly.

4:44PM PDT on Apr 17, 2012 Check out updated nuclear news now

9:59AM PDT on Mar 11, 2012

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.

5:14AM PST on Jan 8, 2012

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....

5:39PM PDT on Aug 29, 2011

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....!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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