Scientists are confident that sea level in the New York City region could rise by between 3 and 5 feet by the mid-2080s, he said.
Storm surges are expected to be more severe with rising seas in part because higher sea levels provide a higher foundation for the storm surge to build upon, preventing low-lying areas from draining and causing an additional flooding threat.
“If the (nuclear power) plant lies close to sea level, the rising sea levels and storm surges may interfere with cooling water, access roads, transmission lines and support structures like buildings or waste storage areas,” said John Perkins, an environmental historian and emeritus faculty member at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. Perkins’ 2008 study with graduate student Natalie Kopytko assessed the vulnerability of nine U.S. coastal nuclear power plants to sea level rise.
“These industrial facilities were designed to operate on dry ground, so if rising sea levels and storms flood the area, the plant is put into circumstances not envisioned in its design. We should expect disruption of operations and possibly malfunctions that release radioactive materials,” he said.
Three coastal nuclear power plant sites in the path of Sandy — Millstone Power Station in Connecticut and the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants in New Jersey — were identified as being the country’s most vulnerable nuclear plants to storm surge in research for a 2013 Stanford University paper. The study analyzed the vulnerability of Japanese nuclear power plants to another Fukushima-like disaster by comparing them to other low-lying nuclear plants across the globe.
Though there were no shutdowns at Millstone or Hope Creek during Sandy, one reactor at Salem was shut during the storm, and Millstone powered down slightly because of the hurricane. Research for the Stanford paper conducted by political science professor Phillip Lipscy’s team shows that the three plants’ lack of a seawall and elevation under 4 meters expose them to significant flooding risk in future storms.