Virginia nuclear reactors shut down after earthquake

The two North Anna reactors together generate enough electricity to power 450,000 homes, according to the company, which brought the units into commercial operation in 1978 and 1980.

The North Anna plant has declared “alert” status, the second of four NRC emergency classifications, McIntyre said.

A dozen other nuclear plants in the eastern part of the United States have declared “unusual events” because of the earthquake. An unusual event is the lowest of the four emergency classifications.

The NRC's response to the quake and its effect on nuclear plants is likely to be closely watched. It comes months after a vastly more damaging earthquake and tsunami touched off the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan.

The crisis in Japan prompted U.S. regulators to begin exploring plans for enhancing safety at U.S. reactors.

In a statement Tuesday, NRC said its inspectors are monitoring the conditions at the North Anna plant as well as the plants that have declared "unusual events."

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko was among a suite of top administration officials on a conference call with President Obama Tuesday afternoon, a White House spokesman said.

“The president was told that there are no initial reports of major infrastructure damage, including at airports and nuclear facilities and that there were currently no requests for assistance. The president asked for regular updates on the situation,” said Josh Earnest, the White House’s principal deputy press secretary.

Others on the 2:50 p.m. call include Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, the White House said.

Dominion also said in a statement that the quake was felt – but not as powerfully – at its two-reactor Surry Power Station in Virginia, which is 17 miles northwest of Newport News. Both units are operating safely, the company said.

Dominion touted the safeguards of its nuclear fleet.

"U.S. nuclear power stations, including Dominion’s four stations, were built to seismic standards for their regions and safety systems designed to those standards would direct operators to shut down the reactors in the event of an earthquake," the company said.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a longtime critic of the nuclear industry, said via Twitter Tuesday that the North Anna plant’s loss of power is a “lesson” to all nuclear plants to check emergency power.

This post was last updated at 5:00 p.m.