While we expect to see some articles gleefully bid adieu to nuclear energy in favor of its renewable cousins – or natural gas, which for all its positive qualities, still generates greenhouse gasses – what tends to happen is that writers nudge the facts to fit the desired conclusion. For example, this story from NPR is fairly unremarkable in tracing nuclear’s long goodbye, but I was struck by its conclusion:
Fukushima shows that there will always be some risk from nuclear reactors. For Philip Sharp at Resources for the Future, that presents the public with a big question: "To what degree [are] we as a people ... to accept that some of these things are high risk, and how far are we willing to go to tolerate those high risks?"
I would not care to downplay the seriousness of the accident, but I would stress that the above paragraph is written in the context of an earthquake and tsunami now believed to have killed 27,000 people, a fair number of them in the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi. Meanwhile, the accident at the nuclear plant killed no one (two plant workers were killed by the tsunami), though it has displaced a lot of people.
So the risk of being hurt or killed by a natural disaster versus by a nuclear plant accident caught in that natural disaster has been demonstrated – tragically but vividly.
“How far are people willing to go to tolerate those high risks?” I genuinely do not think that the speaker – in this case, Ed Lyman at the Union of Concerned Scientists – has really thought through what he’s saying.
In fact, the United States, while experiencing nothing like the earthquake in Japan, has recently suffered a natural disaster that disconnected at least a couple of nuclear energy plants from off-site power – just as happened at Fukushima.
The apparent tornado affected an electrical switchyard next to the plant, cutting off the electrical feed to the station, in Surry County, about 17 miles northwest of Newport News.
The second-biggest nuclear power plant in the United States may be down for weeks after killer thunderstorms and tornadoes in Alabama knocked out power and automatically shut down the plant, avoiding a nuclear disaster, officials said on Thursday.
The backup power systems at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama shut as designed on Wednesday, preventing a partial meltdown like the disaster last month in Japan that was also caused by a natural disaster.
And two. Love that second paragraph, but it’s only fair, I suppose. Glad it avoided a partial meltdown.
In both cases, diesel engines kicked in and allowed the plants to shut down normally. In Japan, the tsunami swept away the engines. Neither Browns Ferry nor Surry are vulnerable to tsunami, but they are expected to stand up to massive rain and flooding and tornadoes – which they did.
So? At Surry:
Surry Unit 1 was returned to service this past weekend and Surry Unit 2 has begun its scheduled refueling.
That would be April 24. It lost power on April 17, so that was a week.
And Browns Ferry:
All three nuclear units at Browns Ferry automatically tripped on April 27 when severe storms damaged transmission lines, causing the plant to lose offsite power.
Browns Ferry exited its unusual event status Monday night with the restoration of two independent sources of offsite power.
This is on May 3, so again, about a week. It’s going to take awhile longer to get back online, but that’s mostly because transmission lines got pummeled and need to be set back up.
I’m not sure there’s a full accounting of the deaths caused by the rains and tornadoes, but the last number I saw was 85.