Critics of U.S. nuclear-safety requirements said a few breaks, including that reactors such as Oyster Creek were idled for refueling, prevented a disaster, and that plants need stiffer government standards to cope with a likely increase in the number and severity of storms.This is akin to a losing politician saying that he would have won if only his competitor had committed adultery (murder, treason, take your pick). If only Oyster Creek had run into major problems, it would have proven how dangerous it is – ah, if only.
This amusing example of negative wish fulfillment comes from a Bloomberg story about nuclear energy facilities weathering Hurricane Sandy quite well. Even if there was no reason to expect any of the 34 reactors in the storm’s path to develop major problems, the post-Fukushima environment in which the storm took place means that we must expect stories like this – though the actual content is now differently organized than it was after, say, the Virginia earthquake. The lede is no longer – well, like the paragraph above.
Hurricane Sandy’s wrath shows that U.S. regulators should swiftly implement nuclear-safety rules developed after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, a top lawmaker said, as industry officials said the lack of major problems during the storm showed that they were ready.Although the top lawmaker is not a great supporter of nuclear energy, the industry broadly agrees with his sentiment. In fact, the story even focuses on FLEX (an industry initiative the NRC agrees is a useful approach to disaster preparedness) though without naming it:
Reactor owners have begun buying mobile equipment, including pumps and generators to have in the event of an emergency. While Chicago-based Exelon has installed portable, diesel-fueled pumps at its facilities in response to the NRC’s Fukushima regulations, the company didn’t need to use them to respond to Hurricane Sandy, David Tillman, a spokesman for Exelon Nuclear, said in an e-mail.If there are going to be stories about nuclear facilities not falling over every time nature raises its ferocious head and roars, reporters stuck with the assignment should reference what Kasia Klimasinska and Brian Wingfield have done here. Well worth a read.---
The tone of the Bloomberg story echoed through a number of stories I read about the hurricane’s impact on the energy sector, whether nuclear or not. National Geographic's story covers several sectors; when discussing nuclear, it bluntly sets its interest in the shadow of Fukushima:
Oyster Creek shares the same design as Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant, which suffered a catastrophic meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.Oyster Creek again. But:
At Oyster Creek that didn't happen. The plant declared an "alert" for 36 hours when winds and heavy rains generated tides 6.8 feet above mean sea level at its water intake on the Forked River. But the water never rose high enough to impact the operation of plant equipment. When the electricity from the New Jersey grid went out, two locomotive-sized backup diesel generators started automatically and continued to power the crucial pumps that circulate cooling fluid through the reactor and the pool where spent fuel rods are stored. Cooling systems also continued to function at all three other nuclear reactors that experienced shutdowns—Indian Point and Nine Mile Point in New York, and Salem in New Jersey.The writer here even garnered a similar sourpuss reaction as at Bloomberg, this time from David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists:
The Fukushima plant wasn't of appreciably lower quality or poorly constructed compared to the U.S. plants," Lochbaum said. "It was given a much more severe challenge. None of our reactors would have survived that either."That’s called a bald assertion, with no evidence at all to back it up.
Another story worth a fuller read.
The coverage I've seen has been largely positive, if informed by intimations of potential trouble. By way of contrast, over at Forbes, writer James Conca goes all out for nuclear energy:
Nuclear did best of all. Natural gas, not so well. Houses built on shifting sand, very badly.
Nuclear power plants had no problems riding out the storm. Although many ideologues tried to stoke fear about how we were going to have a Fukushima here in America, and how we only narrowly averted it, there was never any real danger.That’s exactly correct, though as we’ve seen, writers have been fair in noting that the plants did not crumple despairingly at the sight of Sandy. But these other stories at least faintly imply, and included quotes from people who directly said, that the industry dodged a bullet. Oyster Creek was being refueled – whew! Indian Point didn’t have to face a tsunami – phew! In reality, no bullet was dodged because the hammer was never cocked – Oyster Creek and other facilities operated exactly as expected.
Conca’s article acts as a partial corrective to the worried tone found elsewhere by directly making this point - which happens to be true.
---The stories linked here all do a good and thorough job. What’s most important about them from my perspective is that they recognize – after the wild weather ride of the last two years – that nuclear energy plants, much like other power plants, are well able to withstand the elements.