• Eugene Weekly Loves You!
Share |

Sandy's Energy Implications

Just days before Hurricane Sandy smacked into the East Coast, turning New York City streets into waterways, a tsunami advisory was issued for the West Coast from Alaska into California, as well as Hawaii, as a result of an 7.7 earthquake off the coast of British Columbia. These water disasters, or near disasters — the tsunami was in the end rather small — call to mind the 2011 Japanese quake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear plant dangers that arose. Oregon State scientists recently announced that trace amounts of radiation from the Fukishima nuclear reactors were found in Northwest albacore tuna, but say the fish are safe to eat. 

The Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey shares the same design as the Fukushima Daichi plant that released radiation after being hit by the tsunami, according to news reports. A press release from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says an alert was released for Oyster Creek on Oct. 29, “due to water exceeding certain high water level criteria in the plant’s water intake structure.” The agency listed 10 other plants, including Three Mile Island, that were being monitored by NRC inspectors during the storm. 

Oyster Creek was already shut down for a regularly scheduled outage, the NRC says, but nuclear energy critics say the danger is as much from the spent fuel rods, which are cooled in pools of water, as it is from the energy generation itself. An “alert” is one level above an “unusual event” and is the second lowest of the four NRC action levels.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, Canadian papers are reporting that activists say the Oct. 27 earthquake and tsunami was a wake-up call for the companies working to build oil pipelines through Canada to the coast where the oil would be loaded onto tankers. They warn of dangers to the pipelines due to quakes and flooding — the 2011 oil leak into the Yellowstone River was believed to be caused by flooding — and the activists warn of oil tankers 10 times the size of the Exxon Valdez that could be swamped by a tsunami. 

While earthquakes have not been linked to climate change, scientists have predicted that storms and hurricanes will increase as the global temperatures increase. Scientists at the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute in a 2011 study wrote that in Oregon, “Coastal infrastructure will come under increased risk to damage and inundation under a changing climate,” and they note impacted sectors include transportation and navigation, coastal engineering structures and flood control. With the current debates over the International Port of Coos Bay’s attempts to export coal via trains and tankers, and liquefied natural gas through pipelines and tankers, it appears that natural disasters, climate-change induced or otherwise, have implications for Oregon’s energy industry.