Earthquake Near Virginia Nuclear Reactors Are a Reminder of the Risks

Media Contacts

Statement by MASSPIRG Executive Director Janet Domenitz


BOSTON—Yesterday’s earthquake in Virginia, less than ten miles from two nuclear reactors, is a jolting reminder of exactly the type of unpredictable risk that threaten the safety and security of nuclear power plants across the country.

Because of the immediate, serious danger if radioactivity were to be released, the United States should be moving away from this inherently dangerous technology and towards safer energy sources.

We know nuclear power is inherently risky, and this year has taught us that it is possible for the security of nuclear plants to be compromised by Mother Nature.

Unfortunately, in many instances regulators do not seem to grasp the risks. For example, in Massachusetts, the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, designed in the 1960’s with a life expectancy of 40 years, is under consideration to have its license renewed next year.

After the disaster in Japan earlier this year, and ensuing public pressure from local officials,  Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission not to renew Pilgrim’s operating license until its safety could be ensured. In a June statement, Coakley said: “Over the last five years, my office has consistently raised serious concerns about the storage of spent fuel at Pilgrim,’’ said Coakley. “The accident in Japan shows there are many outstanding issues and concerns that the NRC needs to fully consider before Entergy is given a 20 year license extension at Pilgrim.”

In Virginia, where Dominion Power representatives have said that the reactors were designed to withstand earthquakes of 5.9-6.1, only time will tell whether today’s earthquake or any subsequent aftershocks will release dangerous radioactivity into the environment. 

Even if no safety threats are apparent, Virginia ratepayers will likely be on the hook for expensive back-up electricity needs while the reactors are offline.  

Ever since 1974, when we worked with activists in Western MA to stop a proposed nuclear power plant in Montague, MASSPIRG has been pushing for alternatives to nuclear power. In March of this year, we released a report entitled, “Unacceptable Risk: Two Decades of Close Calls” documenting problems at a number of nuclear reactors around the country. 


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History of problems, U.S.PIRG Report: Unacceptable Risk: Two Decades of “Close Calls,” Leaks and Other Problems at U.S. Nuclear Reactors