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Gov. Cuomo orders review of N.Y. reactor after report on quake data

Mike Groll / AP

"We are going to check into it ... immediately," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a safety review of the Indian Point nuclear plant just up the Hudson River from New York City, after one of its reactors ranked first for risk of damage from an earthquake in a study published Wednesday.

Update: The state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, on Friday made a similar request, insisting that relicensing of the plant take into account its seismic risk. His statement is here.

The report by msnbc.com was based on damage estimates for 104 commercial nuclear power plants from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that supervises the industry. The highest risk of damage from an earthquake, according to the NRC's data, was at Indian Point's reactor No. 3, which the NRC said had a 1 in 10,000 chance each year of damage to its radioactive core from an earthquake. The plant lies near the Ramapo Fault zone.

"We are going to check into it ... immediately," Cuomo, the state's new Democratic governor and former attorney general, told WNBC TV in New York. "This plant in this proximity to New York City was never a good risk. But this is new information we are going to pursue."

Cuomo told WNBC that he discussed the issue with leaders of the state Senate and General Assembly in a closed-door session on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear what sort of review Cuomo plans, or who would conduct it.

Mike Segar / Reuters

Indian Point Energy Center sits on the east bank of the Hudson River, 24 miles from New York City. It provides up to one-third of the electricity for the city and suburban Westchester County.

The NRC data had been published in August showing an increased risk of earthquakes at power plants in the central and eastern United States, and this week the NRC provided additional data to msnbc.com for the few plants in the western states, allowing msnbc.com to rank the plants by risk. The NRC public affairs staff stressed to all callers on Wednesday that it had not done the rankings, but it did not question the accuracy of the data.

The NRC emphasized that it believes the risk is low of damage to a nuclear power plant from an earthquake.

"Operating nuclear power plants are safe," the NRC said when it reported the new risk estimates. Every plant is designed with a margin of safety beyond the strongest earthquake anticipated in that area, the NRC says, but the new data on earthquakes show that the margin of safety has been reduced.

The full ranking of 104 nuclear power plants is here.

The Indian Point plant, which has two active reactors, provides up to one-third of the electric power for New York City and suburban Westchester County, N.Y. The plant's second reactor had a lower risk of major damage from a quake, according to the NRC, estimated at 1 in 30,303 each year, still about twice the risk of the typical nuclear power plant.  The plant is 24 miles from New York City. Statewide, New York has six commercial nuclear reactors at four plants.

The plant's license is up for renewal. Cuomo, when he was attorney general, said the plant should be closed. In 2007 he called the plant "a catastrophe waiting to happen."

A spokesman for EntergyCorp., the New Orleans company that operates Indian Point, dismissed the possibility of it having troubles like the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan.

"I say only if a tsunami could make its way … up New York Harbor and the Hudson River, somehow avoid New York City, and drench our plant,” Jim Streets, director of communications at Entergy Nuclear Northeast, told CBS New York on Wednesday. “It just doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”

The NRC study based its damage estimates on U.S. Geological Survey data for earthquakes, as well as each plant's type of design and construction.

The study was also mentioned at Wednesday's U.S. Senate hearing on nuclear power. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) asked the NRC chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, about the report. He said he wasn't aware of it, but assured senators that there is no reason for concern.

Related: Alex Johnson of msnbc.com has an article about the licensing battle at another Entergy plant, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Mass.