A scientist who runs the region’s seismographic network for Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says the New York City area is past due for a significant earthquake. And some researchers are jittery about the proximity of one fault line to the area’s only nuclear reactors.
Won-Young Kim, a Rockland County-based scientist, told Metro New York that “it can happen anytime soon,” and that “we can expect it any minute, we just don’t know when and where.”
The New York City area sits on top of the Ramapo Fault Zone, which spans more than 185 miles in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. There is significant public knowledge about the fault in the region, with some of the public specifically worried about its proximity to the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County. Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which runs the power plant, has frequently assured the public that the reactors can withstand a significant earthquake.
Despite the rarity of strong East Coast earthquakes, there are some that do occur. Furthermore, when these events do occur, the areas affected by them are on average ten times as large as western ones for events of the same magnitude. Thus, the potential for earthquake damage from them are moderate.
A 2008 study by Lamont-Doherty researchers argued that a magnitude 6 or 7 earthquake was destined to originate from the Ramapo Fault Zone, which would cause hundreds or even thousands of fatalities and billions of dollars in damage. Studying around 400 earthquakes over the past 300 years, the study also argued that there was an additional fault zone extending from the Ramapo Fault Zone into Southwestern Connecticut and running just one mile from the Indian Point plant.
The study was used by then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who argued unsuccessfully that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should consider the Lamont-Doherty’s data as part of its decision on whether to extend the licenses to Entergy.