Nuclear Plants and the Tsunami Risk


A recent study by Durham University concluded that nuclear plants in the U.K. are more vulnerable to tsunamis than previously thought.  The study indicated that the risk is greater in the U.K. than along the U.S. Atlantic coasts for geological reasons, which is good news because the U.S. has 61 commercially-operational nukes.

The study indicates that the containment structure surrounding a reactor can typically resist tsunami-induced damage, but other parts of a typical nuclear plant are more susceptible.  The study was conducted in response to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, which was caused by a 130-foot high tsunami, as well as due to the fact that several new nuclear plants are being built in Wales to be online in 2025.

Now, at first glance this statement might seem a bit sensationalistic, as the U.K. has been hit by a tsunami only 6 times in the past 20,000 years (and the most recent instance happened in 1607).  However, the general consensus is that the risk of tsunamis is greater now than in the past due to climate change and an increased probability of underwater landslides.  That said, nuclear power has been on the decline in the U.K. for years.

When it comes to emergency preparedness, nuclear plants are important because these structures tend to be very resilient.  However, any nuclear plant located near a coastal region has the potential to worsen the impact of a large emergency event if the reactor is compromised.  Careful planning is necessary, and future nuclear plants should be built away from low-lying and/or coastal areas to minimize the risk.

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