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.


"Dirty energy makes dirty weather." Al Gore

Former vice president and climate change activist, Al Gore warned Tuesday that the storm that ravaged the East Coast Monday is “a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather," Gore wrote on his blog. Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" presentation included predictions of inundations to coastal and low-lying major cities, including Manhattan, due to climate change-induced sea level rise. "Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop," Gore wrote. "As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful."

All nuclear power plants sit on bodies of water on which they rely for cooling.


Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds analyzes Oyster Creek's alert due to Hurricane Sandy

Arnie GundersenIn a special edition podcast dated October 30th, Kevin Hurley of Fairewinds Energy Education interviews Fairewinds Associates' nuclear engineer, Arnie Gundersen (photo, left), about "After Hurricane Sandy, Questions and Answers about What Happened." Arnie describes similarities between what just happened at Oyster Creek -- loss of offsite power, risk of losing service water pump motors and ultimate heat sink -- and what happened so catastrophically at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan in March, 2011. The Oyster Creek atomic reactor is an identical twin design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1-4: the General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor.

Arnie also pointed out that Oyster Creek's current design basis, especially regarding flooding risks, is not good enough, due to the extreme weather events being caused by global warming. Several years ago, Beyond Nuclear warned that climate chaos makes nuclear power too dangerous.


Unacceptable radioactive waste risks taken at Millstone Unit 1

NRC file photo of Millstone nuclear power plant, taken on a calmer, sunnier day than now!The Millstone Unit 1 atomic reactor was permanently shutdown in the mid to late 1990s. Despite this, Dominion Nuclear has kept the high-level radioactive waste storage pool full, instead of moving the wastes into dry cask storage. Why? In order to defer the costs of dry cask storage as far into the future as possible.

But this means that the potentially catastrophic pool storage risks -- such as a high-level radioactive waste fire, due to pool boil or drain down, outside of any radiological containment structure -- persist, needlessly, other than to pad Dominion's profit margin. These risks are borne by downwind and downstream regional residents, however.

Obviously, all the irradiated nuclear fuel in Millstone 1's pool is more than five years cooled and decayed. It can, and should, be moved into dry cask storage. However, current dry cask storage is poorly designed and fabricated, and is not even built to withstand real world accidents or potential terrorist attacks. A united environmental movement has long called for hardened on-site storage, a significant safety and security upgrade on current dry cask storage requirements. But Dominion isn't even willing to transfer Millstone 1's irradiated nuclear fuel into inadequate, status quo dry cask storage.

Millstone nuclear power plant (photo, above left) was impacted by Hurricane Sandy. No surprise there, as it's located on Long Island Sound's north shore, in eastern Connecticut. One of Millstone's two still operating reactors was forced to power down from 100% power to 75% power yesterday, in response to the storm.

Millstone Units 1 (shutdown permanently), 2 and 3 (both still operating) are G.E. Mark Is, just like Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4, as well as Oyster Creek in NJ, perhaps the single hardest hit nuclear plant by Hurricane Sandy.


Multiple reactors shutdown due to Hurricane Sandy

NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua spacecraft captured this infrared image of Hurricane Sandy, another weather front to the west and cold air coming down from Canada at 2:17 p.m. EDT Oct. 29. The hurricane center is the darkest purple area in the Atlantic just to the east of the New Jersey coast, reflecting Sandy's areas of heaviest rainfall. Image credit: NASA/JPL-CaltechAs reported by Reuters:

"On Tuesday morning, the NRC said that Entergy Corp's Indian Point 3 automatically tripped offline at about 10:41 p.m. last night due to fluctuations in the power grid caused by the storm, while Public Service Enterprise Group Inc's Salem Unit 1 was manually shut down at 1:10 a.m. due to a loss of 'condenser circulators' due to the storm surge and debris...

Among other units, Constellation Energy Nuclear Group's 630-MW Nine Mile Point 1 nuclear power reactor in upstate New York did shut due to a problem putting power onto the grid, although it was not clear whether the trouble was related to the storm.

In addition, Sandy caused power reductions at both units at Exelon's Limerick nuclear plant in Pennsylvania and one unit at Dominion's Millstone plant in Connecticut."

NRC, in a press release dated Monday, Oct. 29th, had "bragged on" the fact that "As of 9 p.m. EDT Monday, no plants had to shut down as a result of the storm." Capitoilette pointed out the irony that "If only regulators had held on to that release just one more minute," for Nine Mile Point Unit 1 had to automatically shutdown at 9 PM due to a light pole in the electrical switchyard falling on an electrical componet, causing a grid disturbance, and preventing the plant's output from being trasmitted to the grid.

NRC has posted "event notifications" about the Nine Mile Point Unit 1 SCRAM, the Indian Point Unit 3 shutdown, and the Salem Unit 1 trip. In addition, Nine Mile Point Unit 2's emergency diesel generators needed to fire up due to loss of offsite power, and Peach Bottom lost nearly one-third of its emergency alert sirens, likely due to "collapse" of the electrical grid in the surrounding areas due to Hurricane Sandy.

NRC issued a press release at 10 AM Eastern on Tuesday, Oct. 30th recapping several reactors' status.