I’m sure the general public is more attuned than usual to the effects of natural disasters on nuclear facilities, given all of the recent media attention set off by the Fukushima disaster this past March.
Most recently, the Missouri river floods in Nebraska and the Las Conchas fire in New Mexico have threatened two nuclear power stations and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, respectively.
With the media’s eye on these incidents, it makes one wonder…how prepared are places like this to handle natural disasters, big or small?
Recently, there has been a lot of focus on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its (real or perceived) lack of action regarding nuclear safety.
Gregory Jaczko, NRC chairman, recently visited the Cooper Nuclear Station during the flooding.
Mr. Jaczko was shown firsthand the measures that the plant was taking to prevent the floodwaters from entering sensitive areas of the plant. He seemed satisfied with the measures taken at Cooper Nuclear Station, stating that, “Fundamentally, this is a plant that is operating safely.” So far, this appears to be true.
More recently, the 36 square miles that house the 2,000 buildings that make up the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) were threatened by the Las Conchas wildfire, now the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history.
Audits conducted by the Department of Energy (DOE) on LANL in 2007 and 2009 identified fire vulnerabilities at the facility and stated that, “there are increased risks associated with fire-related events…If such an event were to occur, not only would the safety and health of employees and the public be impacted, but the environment could be damaged as well.”
As the Las Conchas fire moved closer to LANL, they shut the facilities down and evacuated everyone. As of today, the lab is reopened, after a thorough check of all of the buildings for any damage.
In both of these cases, it seems like the worst-case scenario was avoided…unlike the Fukushima event.
Most of the time, that is the case. Even in the Fukushima event, they had all of their safety measures in place, but it was no match for what Mother Nature unleashed on the area.
It just goes to show that, try as we might, even with all of the computer models and everything else we use to make predictions, we can never really know the extent of what can happen.
All we can, and should, do, is try our best, learn from our mistakes and in the meantime, hope that nothing too catastrophic happens.