(AP) As Hurricane Sandy barreled ashore a year ago, the storm forced the shutdown of several Northeast coastal nuclear power reactors, including the Oyster Creek plant on the Jersey Shore, which took the brunt of Sandy’s huge storm surge. Another reactor at Indian Point Energy Center north of New York City shutdown because of power grid disruptions, and a third reactor in southern New Jersey shutdown when Sandy knocked out four of its circulating water pumps.
No nuclear power plant in Sandy’s path was in imminent danger of a meltdown, but the force and size of the storm surge served as a warning that rising seas and higher storm surges, driven in part by climate change, could eventually have a devastating effect on the seven low-lying nuclear power generating sites on the Northeast Coast in future hurricanes.
Many nuclear power plants are built near low-lying coastlines because they need access to vast quantities of water to keep their reactors cool, and they were built in those places decades ago, before climate change-driven sea level rise was a serious concern. These plants also rely on the electric grid to power their cooling systems, but as hurricane storm surges threaten both power outages and flooding, rising sea levels could eventually expose nuclear power plants to flooding and power outage dangers they weren’t designed to handle.
The northeast’s coastal nuclear plants are within 50 miles of tens of millions of people living in the region’s largest metropolitain areas, including Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia.
“ We learned that they (the region’s nuclear power plants) just barely made it through safely during Sandy, but that does not imply that future storms, when combined with continued SLR (sea level rise), could not cause serious problems,” said Klaus Jacob, seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. “Since many of the NPPs (nuclear power plants) in coastal areas of the U.S. east of the Mississippi were built, sea level has risen by a half-foot, and in some places, more.”