Could Fukushima Happen Here?
Bloomberg Businessweek|April 22,2019

U.S. nuclear plants weren’t built for the growing risks of climate change

Jillian Goodman

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.

The NRC directed the operators of the 60 or so working U.S. nuclear power plants to evaluate their current flood risk, using the latest weather modeling technology and accounting for the effects of climate change. Companies were told to compare those risks with what their plants, many almost a half-century old, were built to withstand, and, where there was a gap, to explain how they would close it.

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.

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