This is a pathetic case of opportunistic fear-mongering. To the extent that there really is public concern about U.S. nuclear plants’ ability to withstand extreme events, it centers around what MIGHT happen in fantastical scenarios. This week, here’s what actually DID happen: The largest Atlantic storm ever recorded slammed into the New Jersey shore, creating record human and property devastation, yet every nuclear energy facility in this super-storm’s path – including the oldest nuclear plant in operation – managed through it safely and expertly with no threat or damage. Every … single … one.For the latest information on how the nuclear industry has been applying lessons learned from Fukushima since the March 2011 accident, please visit SafetyFirst.nei.org.
Does this mean we should stop looking for safer ways to operate? Of course not, and we never will. At this very moment, the public has the opportunity to comment to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on draft guidance that nuclear energy facilities would use to perform flooding hazard assessments as part of the response activities under way to the Fukushima Daiichi accident. This is being done with an eye toward providing another layer of protection above and beyond those that already exist and that make nuclear energy facilities exceedingly capable of withstanding extreme events of all kinds.
The authors – who somehow seem to think that natural events can affect only nuclear facilities and nothing else around them – are simply are wrong in claiming that facilities on the Eastern seaboard have “minimal protection” against inundation. The Salem/Hope Creek plant, for example, is designed for a category 4 hurricane arriving during high tide and a full moon. During Hurricane Sandy, the plant saw river levels consistent with some of the highest levels in its past (between 97 and 98 feet). This was still below the facility’s site grade and more than 20 feet below the water levels it is designed for.
As objective observers seek to better cope with devastating events like Hurricane Sandy, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ll identify other priorities for action before they feel a need to better fortify the nuclear energy facilities that are our nation’s largest source of low-carbon electricity.