The other nuclear threat is here in America: 2 Florida nuclear power plants in path of Hurricane Irma
Americans have been so busy looking at the nuclear threat outside from North Korea that we weren’t looking at the threat at home that we created ourselves. That other kind of nuclear threat is foreground in the American psyche right now as Hurricane Irma—the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded— is barreling toward Florida where 2 nuclear power plants sit directly in its path. In total, there are 5 nuclear power plants in the state of Florida, and all are on alert.
The Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station in Homestead, Florida is 40 miles south of Miami on the Atlantic coastline. The St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant in Jensen Beach, Florida is 115 miles north of Miami on the Atlantic coastline. Each houses two nuclear reactors, and both are about to face the greatest catastrophic category 5 hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.
Isn’t it time to rethink our “Nuclear Renaissance” and to stop saying nuclear energy is green and safe? It isn’t. Isn’t it time to more sincerely embrace the race to renewable energy and the fight against climate change instead of pretend it’s not real? Isn’t it time to embrace renewable energy technologies and shift resources to them from fossil fuels and dirty nuclear?
The inconvenient truth Hurricane Irma poses for Floridians and all Americans is this: two nuclear power plants sit in a hurricane zone directly on the Florida coast 20 feet above sea level. However, with Hurricane Irma’s 185 mph winds, storm surges are expected to reach 30 feet high, putting both plants at risk of flooding and loss of electricity—exactly what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant before it exploded in 3 critical reactor meltdowns in the tsunami disaster in 2011. Those 3 meltdowns continue to this day and will continue for decades, if not centuries, to come, with every attempt to contain them failing. And if Fukushima is too far away for Americans to comprehend given our stubborn refusal to adapt our attitude about nuclear energy’s safety risks to health of people and planet, Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of Houston just two weeks ago put the reality of climate change in our face.
Neither of these Florida nuclear generating plants has shut down as of Sept 7th, 3 days before Hurricane Irma is expected to hit land. If they do shut down, there is a crucial system for cooling down the post-shutdown heat coming from the reactors, and that system runs on electricity. Loss of electricity could damage the system’s ability to cool the heat, causing a meltdown. This is the most common cause of nuclear generating accidents, and is what happened in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant catastrophe.
The Turkey Point Nuclear Generating station survived Hurricane Andrew back in 1992, though it sustained $90 million in damages. Andrew caused the plant to lose electricity and run on backup generators for 5 hours, lose communications, suffer damage to its fire protection system, and lose its access road, in addition to having a smokestack crack in half. Though a meltdown was averted in 1992, people are naturally concerned because Hurricane Irma is by far bigger and stronger than Andrew.
We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that cancer rates are higher from exposure to nuclear radiation. So are birth defects and heart disease, because ionizing radiation damages DNA, and Cesium 137, one of the most common heavy fission products, is taken up like potassium into the heart. We know all this. Nuclear radiation isn’t safe for humanity. We learned about the correlation of nuclear radiation to cancer, heart disease and birth defects the hard way. We learned it after dropping the A-Bomb on civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII. We learned it again from U.S. military crews cleaning up radioactive beaches on the Bikini Islands after U.S. atomic testing (23 nuclear bombs) between 1946 and 1958. And we learned it yet again from the children of Chernobyl after the catastrophic nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986. If all of those events weren’t enough to prompt adaptive change, the Fukushima catastrophe gave us another chance. Now Hurricane Irma will demand change. Isn’t it time?