By Bernd Debusmann Jr.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan have raised concerns about nuclear power safety as that country races to stop a meltdown, but some people living near a New York nuclear plant say they have faith in U.S. safety measures.
Indian Point is about 40 miles north of Manhattan and critics of the facility have long complained a disaster resulting either from a problem with plant operations or from an attack could threaten the safety of millions of people.
But some New Yorkers said on Monday they were not worried about living close to the Entergy Corp nuclear plant despite the Japanese crisis, already the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
"As someone who lives near Indian Point, I'm not scared because I know how much we rely on the power plant as a source of energy and I know there are an incredible amount of safety measures in place," said Andrew Bonnesson, 24, a financial analyst from Rye, New York.
Sean Murray, mayor of Buchanan, New York, where the plant is located, voiced confidence the Indian Point reactor was safe. He said likening it to the situation in Japan, where an 8.9-magnitude quake and tsunami that followed knocked out cooling systems at a nuclear plant, was like comparing "apples and oranges."
"We have never had an 8.9 earthquake and the Hudson River has never had a tidal wave," said Murray, although acknowledging a few people had expressed concerns.
Jim Steets, spokesman for Entergy, said the Indian Point plant was built to withstand an earthquake up to magnitude 6.0 and that the largest earthquake recorded in the area had been a 5.2 in 1884.
'ONE OF THE WORST POSSIBLE LOCATIONS'
Paul Gallay, executive director of the environmental group Riverkeeper, said the nuclear crisis in Japan had caused him to be more concerned about Indian Point's safety as there were two fault lines around the plant.
"It's one of the worst possible locations," he said. "There are around 20 million people within 50 miles of Indian Point. That's a larger implication than around the plant in Japan."
Entergy is still facing local opposition to its bid to renew the plant's reactor licenses for an additional 20 years.
The federal licenses for Indian Point Units 2 and 3, which were issued in 1973 and 1976, expire in September 2013 and December 2015, respectively. Unit 1 was shut down in 1974.
James Stone, 30, a construction worker in Cortlandt, New York, said he saw no reason to worry, "but it's hard not to think about and be concerned about what might happen if there was a big quake or something."
The worst nuclear power accident in U.S. history happened at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 when the core began to melt through a combination of personnel error, design deficiencies and component failures.
There were no injuries and no radiation releases that exceeded the plant's environmental limits.
(Writing by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Mark Egan and Peter Cooney)