Monday, November 05, 2012

The Hurricane This Time

Oyster creek
Oyster Creek
It’s so annoying when things don’t go your way. Take Hurricane Sandy:
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.

Instead:
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. 

10 comments:

Edward said...

The media, and their willing accomplices in the anti-nuke organizations, want to push the idea that nuclear power plants are just atomic bombs on a hair trigger, like giant bottles of nitroglycerin just waiting for the slightest bump or jar to explode. It grabs eyeballs and sells ads, after all. Imminent danger! Hair trigger! Bombs and poison! Tune in at 11:00!

They will never remember that almost all of Japan's reactors including the boiling water reactors survived the earthquake and tsunami in good shape. The antinuke organizations would rather chop off their own noses than admit that almost all of Japan's reactors performed up to spec as designed. They took the worst that nature could throw at them and shrugged it off. Why don't we hear that story repeated over and over? Good news and nominal operation don't sell ads.

jim said...

Why can't a fine article like this break out of blogs and be printed in major New Jersey or metro NY newspapers???

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Anonymous said...

The last time this claim was made, last week I think, I asked for links to some of these awful, biased, fear-mongering articles. Absolutely zero response followed. Crickets.

Don't make bald assertions about media coverage that you can't back up, please.

Also, the commentors are clearly not familiar with real newsrooms, where coverage is simply not determined by who's advertising. It just doesn't even come up. It's a completely different department.

gmax137 said...

Well I thought the Washington Post opinion piece by Phillip Lipscy, Kenji Kushida and and Trevor Incert entitled, "Protecting nuclear plants from nature's worst," quoted in the previous NEI blog entry was pretty awful.

Anonymous said...

that's an op ed piece, which is essentially a long letter to the editor -- NOT reporting by journalists.

I've seen allegations on this blog for years that "mainstream media" coverage of nuclear power issues by reporters is systematically biased and sensationalistic. I'm still awaiting some documentation.

If those biased stories are so abundant, to the point where the entire news industry is frequently accused here of bias, it should be easy enough to link up AT LEAST ONE actual news story that proves their point.

SteveK9 said...

Ironic that the only practical solution the world has for dealing with climate change is nuclear, and people are trying to use the incidence of extreme weather to block development of nuclear power.

jim said...

Hey Mr. Anonymous:

Let's test your keen to perceive the obvious. Why link you to one sample when we've a slew. Stride over to YouTube and select under nuclear plants & news & TV and tell me if you can find one newscast that doesn't come off with an aura of consternation and apprehension and unsettled alarm and ominous doubt fostered by the grim-faced/toned "reporters," and note the air times they give opponents and jittery neighbors opposed planet officials and supporters. For a nice comparison, search and checkout newscasts on solar and windmills and notice the almost bright bubbly uncritical enthuse provided the "fair" reporters.

James "no Anon - proud to be me" Greenidge
Queens NY



Anonymous said...

Mr. Greenidge, as I've mentioned many times before, your taunts re: anonymity are misplaced. My company prefers I keep personal comments separate from them.

That aside, it's pretty convenient to say "they're all biased," and toss it back to me.

Still waiting for someone to point out all these biased, fearmongering stories, rather than trying to divert discussion. It's sure easy to blame the media when you don't have to back it up.

jim said...

You know, I don't have the time to toy with coy anti-nuclear views as yours. You had a choice to check oddles of proof for yourself and shied out. Great. I could lead you to water but can't make you drink. There's no "if" the media is basically/mostly antinuclear. Ask any master of a pro-nuke blog. Look at your own TV screen. The anti-nuclear slants of the NYC media here toward Indian Point is blind-man obvious. Arnie and Helen spew totally groundless FUD to cluelessly jittery millions who graze it up like cows without any problem of "getting it" from them or the media sans any introspection or critical thought. Ditto for newscasts and "science" programs on Discovery and History Channel who cast nuclear in a literally dark ominous light and the fear such telecasts strokes is reflected by the public perception of nuclear power. Lastly I find the reason you're on stealth mode here very lame unless you're making condemning accusations against your company (if it's not a nuclear one why bother?), but if not, you ought leave such a gag-mouthing outfit. That ought be obvious too.

Chow.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Anonymous said...

I frankly don't care whether you agree with my reasons for anonymity. It's not a manhood test, and has nothing to do with my point.

Your assumption that anyone who disagrees with you must be anti-nuclear is incorrect.

Still lots of blather and snark. Still no links to specifics, just a blanket accusation that all media stories are anti-nuclear all the time.

It's "old man yells at chair," all over again.