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Hurricane “Sandy” sends another warning on unreliable nuclear power in a climate changing world

Hurricane Sandy held more lessons and sent a clear warning to humankind on the consequences of climate change and nuclear power in a post-Fukushima world.  Climate change was largely responsible for making Sandy one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history. The “Frankenstorm” swamped much of the Eastern Seaboard in storm surge and flood water with devastating results for New Jersey and New York. And it reiterated the dire need for prompt action to place the interests of the public’s health and safety ahead of those of an inherently dangerous and polluting nuclear power industry. 

The storm caused the emergency shutdown of three nuclear power stations because of electricity failures and the powering down of several more, once again demonstrating that in time of natural catastrophe and national emergency, nuclear power is unreliable and more a dangerous liability than an asset. 

Indian Point Unit 3 (Buchannan, NY), Nine Mile Point Unit 1 (Scriba, NY) and Salem Unit 1 (Artificial Island, NJ) were forced into shutdown and cooling mode due to electrical grid disturbance and high water. The Oyster Creek nuclear power station (Toms River, NJ), already shut down on October 22 for refueling and routine maintenance, went on “ALERT” when storm surge and flooding threatened to overwhelm cooling water pumps to the more than 700 metric tons of nuclear waste in its rooftop storage pond. 

The unprecedented size of this super-storm and its flooding impact has more broadly underscored the environmental threat from the entire nuclear fuel chain beginning with uranium mining to the still unresolved nuclear waste issue.  The radioactive contamination of water resources due to run-off from uranium mine tailings is a particular concern given current industry efforts to repeal the state of Virginia’s ban on uranium mining. The City of Virginia Beach detailed the threat to its drinking water supply from potential flooding of the proposed Cole’s Hill uranium mine in Pittsylvania County, VA in an environmental impact statement published in February 2011. One can only imagine the long term contamination as a consequence of adding radioactivity to the already toxic floodwaters now inundating communities in New Jersey and New York.