Before the Flood: The Precarious Case of Nuclear Plants

It’s no secret, nuclear energy is the most powerful–and, therefore, dangerous–force currently in existence. Not-so-ancient history remembers the horror of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Chernobyl, and Americans specifically look back uneasily on the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.These days, the world largely treats nuclear power with the caution and seriousness it deserves so that no fallout is experienced from such power. These strict precautions taken in and around nuclear plants are crucially important and, as a result, if even the smallest safety measure goes awry, the problem is likely to escalate rapidly. So you can imagine that US residents are now uneasy after hearing that several nuclear power plants in Tennessee have been labeled as susceptible to severe flooding.

According to industry publication Insurance Journal, “Using newer technology and information, TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] concluded a catastrophic flood could inundate critical reactor control equipment [at the plants]. TVA discovered the need while planning for resumption of construction at the Bellefont Nuclear Plant near Scottsboro, Ala. New calculations showed a “probable maximum flood” would cause water to rise 4 feet higher than the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant was designed and licensed to withstand. Such a flood could bring water nearly two and a half feet deeper than the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant at Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., was designed for.”

Of course, all of this talk about flooding is hypothetical, but in the wake of the many flood-related disasters the South has seen in recent years, concerns for the safety of these plants are not far-fetched.

The TVA itself actually estimated that a worst-case flood scenario “would begin with more than 6 inches of rain falling across the 20,000 square miles of the East Tennessee watershed. Then, an additional 16-17 inches of rainfall in the next six days on already-saturated soil would trigger such a flood.”

If such a (pardon the pun) perfect storm of weather factors happen to align, these plants could be looking at dangerous flooding with the ability to leave its nuclear power unprotected, thus threatening emission of radiation into public.

However, not to worry; modifications are underway to eliminate these weaknesses in the original setup of the plants. Dan Jernigan, the Vice President of TVA, confirmed that changes are being made to the plants as well as all of the dams in East Tennessee. Watts Bar and Sequoyah plant officials announced that sealing around doors and conduits at these plants are being upgraded as well.

All in all, as worrisome as nuclear power can be to the layman who isn’t aware of the detailed happenings at these plants, there does not seem to be any real emergency over which to fret. Changes are being preemptively made to keep these plants and the areas around them safe. And, as of today, the only flood approaching is the one of holiday cards filling mailboxes across the country.

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