Taking stock of area nuclear plants

    As Japanese officials struggle to prevent radiation leaks at several nuclear facilities, European officials are re-evaluating their nuclear industry. There’s a high concentration of nuclear facilities in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. But U.S. regulators are taking a wait-and-see approach.

    The safety failures at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant stem from the double blow of an earthquake, followed by a tsunami.

    Arthur Motta, chair of Penn State’s nuclear engineering program, said a similar disaster is unlikely to happen here.

    “You’d have to imagine another biblical scenario like that. And I don’t know what you would imagine. In the East Coast of the United States we really don’t have earthquakes at that magnitude,” he said.

    Motta said it’s difficult to plan for such unheard-of events like the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami.

    But some say that kind of thinking is exactly what led to Japan’s nuclear crisis.

    “I think it should give everyone pause because it shows that whatever we build could be overwhelmed by nature,” said Jeff Tittel, director of New Jersey’s Sierra Club.

    Japan’s multiple plant failures now cause him to worry about the concentration of nuclear plants in the area, he said.

    Industry regulations require nuclear reactors to be built to withstand localized natural disasters–such as earthquakes or hurricanes.

    Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the agency has sent experts to Japan.

    “Afterwards, we’ll take a step back and look at what happened, gain a better understanding of why it happened and look to see if any changes need to be made,” she said.

    Oyster Creek power plant, near the Jersey shore, is due to shut down in 2019. Oyster Creek’s reactor, those at Hope Creek, New Jersey, and Limerick in Montgomery County are similar to Japan’s Daiichi plant.

    The NRC is reviewing a license renewal for New Jersey’s Salem nuclear plant. It recently approved a renewal for Pennsylvania’s Peach Bottom plant and Three Mile Island.

    The agency is also looking at an application for another reactor to be built at a plant near Wilkes-Barre.

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