Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sea level rise brings added risks to coastal nuclear plants

Alyson Kenward in Climate Central: Power has finally been restored to all the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, nearly two weeks after the facility was ravaged by a 30-foot tsunami, giving Japanese officials new hope they can keep the crisis from spinning further out of control. With some of the immediate danger of a complete meltdown on hold and much hazardous work remaining, authorities are only starting to investigate exactly what happened, and what extra safety features might have prevented the disaster.

They’re not the only ones. In many parts of the world, including the United States, nuclear reactors are often located near the ocean, due to their requirement for abundant supplies of water for cooling purposes. And while tsunamis aren’t a threat everywhere, the sea can pose other challenges. Hurricanes, for example, can push walls of water ahead of them, like the storm surge that did most of the damage to New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina swept through in 2005. In fact, one U.S. nuclear plant has already been dealt a direct hit by a severe hurricane. In 1992, when Category 5 Hurricane Andrew hammered the Turkey Point power plant in southern Miami-Dade County, Fla., its nuclear reactors were unharmed despite extensive damage to other parts of the facility.

But scientists anticipate that in the future, sea level rise will cause hurricanes and their storm surges, as well as flooding caused by other types of storms, to be more severe than during the past few decades. In the wake of the Japanese crisis, which involved a more devastating tsunami than planners anticipated, nuclear analysts in the U.S. are now asking themselves how vulnerable coastal nuclear plants are to a comparable emergency.

“After the events in Japan, we took a hard look at whether our operating facilities are protected, based on current regulations and operating procedures,” says Roger Hannah, a senior public relations official with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Relying on models of expected flood levels and storm surges, along with “real-world experience with hurricanes,” the NRC believes all U.S. coastal nuclear facilities are already built to withstand the worst-case storm scenario, Hannah says. On March 23, the NRC also launched an additional two-step review of U.S. nuclear plants, aimed to last about three months…

Hurricane Andrew makes landfall, August 24, 1992, coming close to the Turkey Point nuclear power plant. NOAA image

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

See also.

"Climate change could spell the end for nuclear power, not vice versa"