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U.S. Nuclear Reactors

Monitoring Nuclear Power
Spotlight: Flood Risk

For several years prior to the March 2011 tsunami that crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, the NRC had known that 35 U.S. reactors—such as those at South Carolina's Oconee plant, pictured at right—faced flooding hazards potentially greater than they are designed to withstand. Nuclear plants are built next to rivers, lakes, and oceans because they require vast quantities of cooling water to carry away the large amounts of waste heat. (Today's nuclear plants produce two units of waste heat for every unit of electricity they generate.) Many nuclear plants along a river have one or more dams located up that river. If a dam failed, the ensuing flood waters could overwhelm the plant's protective barriers just the tsunami crashed over Fukushima's seawall. The NRC has plans to resolve this flooding hazard concern over the next few years. The plants might be okay as is, or the plants may only be protected by luck—they are okay as long as the dam remains intact. The NRC won't know until it completes its homework. And Americans won't be protected until this safety question is finally answered.