I found myself in the middle of an email fight on this subject. I am answering Vermont Senator McCormack here, the same man who doesn't think we need to have electricity available whenever we feel like using it.
I rarely post when people are busily insulting each other, but I am going to try to make some reasonable statements here.
McCormack's argument is that loss of power and flooding can cause the same problems here as happened in Japan. That is not true. You see, nuclear plants have been running world-wide for about fifty years. They are designed to withstand loss-of-outside-power. All over the world, they have endured ice storms, floods, and hurricanes. Hurricanes generally include loss of outside power and flooding. It has not mattered. The plants did fine. Here's an article from Minnesota that I found in quick googling. It includes how Prairie Island plant withstood major floods in 2001.
Or this Florida article that includes the safe shutdown of Turkey Point during Hurricane Andrew in 1992
Here's a quote from the article about Florida:
Hannah said the fact that the Turkey Point plant withstood Hurricane Andrew in 1992 should re assure Floridians. "Hurricane Andrew was probably as bad a hurricane as can hit U.S. shores. Turkey Point survived that. It was able to shut down safely."
Does Mr. McCormack think we will have a worse hurricane in Vermont than Hurricane Andrew in Florida? Has he noticed that the Vermont Yankee power plant is hundreds of feet above the river? Florida is flat like a pancake...you can't find a place hundreds of feet above the water.
Politics or Technology?
Mr. McCormack has a political point to make, claiming that the events in Japan were NOT more difficult to deal with than events that could occur on the Connecticut. This is not rational. It is not a matter of being technical or not-technical, it is simply a matter of having some common sense. The combination of infrastructure destruction and flooding from a 9 point earthquake and a 30 foot tsumani just cannot be duplicated here, no matter what type of ice storm or hurricane we have.
In every case of the type of event we might have here, the nuclear plants have been successful in shutting down and starting up again, without incident.
Non-technical people can understand technical matters, if they don't have a political agenda that interferes with their understanding of the facts. Insults to the non-technical are not useful.
(This was in response to one person writing that McCormack was non-technical, and so it was hard for him to understand these things. It was not written in a kindly way.)
I worked hard for my masters degree in physical chemistry and to invent patents in pollution control. Saying that pro-nuclear people "should bow their heads in shame" and such people are "(not) scientifically competent" is equally insulting.
This was in response to the following statement from McCormack: The time has come for the pro nuke crowd to bow their heads in shame, to exhibit the judgment to just shut up or, if they must speak, to apologize and admit how thoroughly they've been discredited. But not only are they not showing the appropriate level of humiliation and remorse, they're still talking down to the rest of us, still scolding us for talking out of turn, still pretending we're scientifically ignorant and they're scientifically competent.
Aside: this email exchange went to about 80 people, including legislators and reporters. It was not private.
For information on the backup capabilities at Vermont Yankee in an emergency, see this article in our local paper.
I will be away from my computer for much of tomorrow, because I have other obligations (amazing but true!) that were set up weeks ago. In the meantime, I recommend the following:
ANS Nuclear Cafe, with links to everything including Japanese TV in English.
Nuclear Energy Institute, which has good summaries. Here is some VERY good news from this source: Restoration of electrical power to the site was under way at the Daiichi plant as of 6:00 a.m. EDT Wednesday. A temporary cable was being connected between an off-site power line and Daiichi reactor 3. Off-site power has not been available at the site since the earthquake on March 11.
A graph of radiation levels around the power plant, from the New York Times, which I hope they will continue to update. These levels are very high, very dangerous. However, I have no equivalent information about levels a mile away or levels in Tokyo, so I can't tell about off-site implications. I began writing a post on this, but gave it up for lack of information.
Update: Another blogger began following radiation levels: The Neutron Economy. He is getting some info from Tokyo. Worth watching this blog.
An excellent blog post by Suzanne Hobbs about perspective.
Image of Turkey Point from the FPL website