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Climate Change and Nuclear Power Plants – Stick to the Facts


This is in response to an online article that appeared Dec. 10 in Miami at NBC 6 Online titled “Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner Among Those Talking About Climate Change,” wherein Mayor Lerner states that she “is horrified and terrified …at what could happen in a storm similar to the 2011 tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan”.  She says the federal government has not been considering climate change in its re-licensing reviews for nuclear power plants.

— Jerry Paul

Climate Change and Nuclear Power Plants – Stick to the Facts

It’s good that these mayors are thinking ahead about these issues.  Our climate is indeed changing.  But the key to proper planning is to be sure our analysis is technically sound so that our responses can be tailored appropriately.  These are times when we need to rely on science rather than politics.

An example is Mayor Cindy Lerner’s comment that she is “horrified and terrified …at what could happen in a storm similar to the 2011 tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan”.  Although the simultaneous tsunami and hurricane in Japan did indeed shut down those nuclear plants, this is not a geological or seismic scenario applicable to our Atlantic coastline.  That does not mean that we should not analyze our coastline and our coastal infrastructure.  But we must stay true to facts.

Look, sea level rise is occurring. It is real. NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) documents this with Mean Sea Level Trend data for coastal Miami over a 50-year period going back to the 1930’s showing a rise of 2.39 millimeters (less than one tenth of an inch) per year.  NOAA points out that this is about .78 feet in 100 years.

As to the nuclear plant near Miami, Florida, remember that it is protected 20 feet  above sea level (that’s right, 20 feet) which is a mountain on the Florida landscape.  The plant is designed to withstand the storm surge of the highest category hurricane (Category 5) and has done so when it took a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.  The proposed new nuclear plants in that area are designed to 26 feet above sea level.

These facts have been made public by scientists and engineers who have understandably been assessing the issue of sea level rise as-applied to coastal nuclear power plants for many years.  This issue is well understood and these rational people are not running around with their hair on fire declaring that Armageddon is coming.

Remember too that nuclear power plants are the single greatest contributor to reducing emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  It is nuclear energy that provides over 70% of America’s zero-emission energy. This is why so many environmentalists concerned with climate change are now loudly proclaiming that more nuclear energy is a necessary component of man’s corrective actions going forward.

Sea level rise (and steps man must take to accommodate it) are legitimate topics for thoughtful discussion and local government planning.  Man has the ability to address these issues, especially in a nation like America with the world’s best scientists and engineers. But unsubstantiated sensationalism does not make a helpful contribution.

Jerry Paul is a nuclear engineer, attorney and former member of the Florida Legislature. He served as Principal Deputy Administrator of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration and was the Distinguished Fellow for Energy Policy at the University of Tennessee Howard Baker Center for Public Policy. He is a contributing expert to the Energy Information Center (www.energyinfocenter.org). Contact him at jpaul@energyinfocenter.org.


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