The likelihood that any given storm could cause a nuclear power plant to melt down may be remote, but Sandy had some lessons to teach about that as well, said Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.
“A major lesson is that a reasonable worst-case scenario should be considered in all environmental impact assessments,” he said, adding that he is unsure what Indian Point’s operators have done to address a worst-case scenario. “It’s important to take a long view forward as to what kinds of events have any more than a trivial chance of occurring.”
For Indian Point and the surrounding region, the stakes when disaster strikes are particularly high. Nearly 20 million people live within 50 miles of the plant, which is currently embroiled in an NRC relicensing controversy and a push from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to shut it down, partly because the state considers the plant’s emergency evacuation plan inadequate. The operating license for one Indian Point reactor expired in September, and the plant has been granted permission to operate without a license until the NRC can complete the renewal process sometime next year.
“The main concern, along with flooding, is that a large storm like (Sandy) is going to knock out the power grid,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Hudson Riverkeeper, a local conservation group. Nuclear plants need power to keep the cooling systems operational, and if flooding knocks out both the power grid and backup generators, a meltdown could occur, he said.
Jerry Nappi, spokesman for Indian Point operator Entergy Corp., said the plant has multiple backup power generators in areas protected from flooding, ensuring the plant’s cooling systems can remain operational in a major storm.
“As part of the industry effort in response to Fukushima, we are undertaking a re-analysis of postulated flooding scenarios using updated climate modeling, which takes into account sea level changes,” Nappi said.