U.S. nuclear plants pose same risks as Japan's

Amid the widening nuclear crisis in Japan, the Japanese are dumping water on the stricken reactors in a last-ditch effort to cool them and prevent a total meltdown. The U.S. is urging citizens there to stay far away from the nuclear site and began offering evacuation options to expatriates.

And nearly a week after a devastating earthquake and tsunami set off the Japanese crisis, the U.S. is renewing its focus on nuclear safety at home.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wants a review of nuclear safety at the Indian Point nuclear plant, which sits just 35 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. And Congress held hearings Wednesday expressing growing concerns about the safety of nuclear power in the United States, CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

The type of reactor in the damaged Fukushima plant in Japan is called the Mark-1, a reactor designed by General Electric in 1960s. There are 23 Mark-1 reactors currently operating in 16 sites in the U.S.

"We use similar reactor designs with similar regulations, so something like [the Japanese earthquake] were to happen here, we should have similar results," nuclear safety activist David Lochbaum told CBS' "The Early Show" Thursday.

Last year, Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors found that a safety device at Indian Point whose sole purpose is protecting against water loss in case of an earthquake had been leaking since 1993.

"They've allowed that to continue. That kind of behavior is just simply unacceptable public policy," said Lochbaum, the director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The NRC has done a good job of setting a high bar for nuclear safety, Lochbaum said, but it's not enforcing its own regulations.

U.S. plants are aging. They are licensed for 40 years -- a number that was derived from the 40-year licenses granted to radio stations by the Federal Communications Commission -- with the licenses extended in 20-year segments.

The Japanese crisis has shed light on risks in light of the sometimes dated technology. Battery backups for the Fukushima cooling system were designed to last eight hours.

"That wasn't enough," Lochbaum said, and "only 11 reactors in the United States are sized for eight hours -- 93 of our reactors have four-hour battery capacity."

"It wasn't enough in Japan and we have roughly half of that. So it's not likely that ours would fare any better with less battery capacity," he said.

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