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U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Weren’t Built for Climate Change via Bloomberg

By Christopher Flavelle and Jeremy C.F. Lin

In 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi power plant, Gregory Jaczko, then the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, had to worry about two things: whether radioactive fallout would harm the U.S. and whether a similar accident could befall an American plant. The answer to the first question turned out to be no. The second question preoccupies him still.

[…]

That process has revealed a lot of gaps. But Jaczko and others say that the commission’s new leadership, appointed by President Donald Trump, hasn’t done enough to require owners of nuclear power plants to take preventative measures—and that the risks are increasing as climate change worsens.

According to a Bloomberg review of correspondence between the commission and plant owners, 54 of the nuclear plants operating in the U.S. weren’t designed to handle the flood risk they face. Fifty-three weren’t built to withstand their current risk from intense precipitation; 25 didn’t account for current flood projections from streams and rivers; 19 weren’t designed for their expected maximum storm surge. Nineteen face three or more threats that they weren’t designed to handle.

The industry argues that rather than redesign facilities to address increased flood risk, which Jaczko advocates, it’s enough to focus mainly on storing emergency generators, pumps, and other equipment in on-site concrete bunkers, a system they call Flex, for Flexible Mitigation Capability. Not only did the NRC agree with that view, it ruled on Jan. 24 that nuclear plants wouldn’t have to update that equipment to deal with new, higher levels of expected flooding. It also eliminated a requirement that plants run Flex drills.

[…]

The commission “is carrying out the Trump deregulatory philosophy,” says Edwin Lyman, head of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The NRC basically did everything the industry wanted.” The two Democratic appointees objected to the NRC’s ruling. “The majority of the commission has decided that licensees can ignore these reevaluated hazards,” commissioner Jeff Baran wrote in dissent. His colleague Stephen Burns called the decision “baffling.” Through a spokesman, the Republican appointees declined to comment.

[…]

The fight over regulation and climate change comes when the nuclear industry, under pressure from cheap natural gas and still viewed with suspicion by many environmentalists, can least afford it, according to Peter Bradford, a former commissioner. “Anything that increases their costs now threatens their existence,” he says.

Read more at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Weren’t Built for Climate Change

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