Sandy’s threat to power plants overlooked

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Sixteen.

This was the number of nuclear plants in Hurricane Sandy’s projected path. Because of this, three plants were shut down during the storm while the other 11 were put on alert. While this may not mean much to the average person at first, this potential danger had serious implications.


Just last year, Japan’s Fukushima Plant lost outside power due to a tsunami.

After a 15-meter surge of water, the backup diesel generators and cooling system also failed. But in light of a very large nuclear catastrophe, it is humbling to know the east coast came out of its biggest tropical storm unscathed in regards to nuclear accidents.

Yet some students felt they were not correctly informed of this potential danger. 

Because most lost power and were concerned with other immediate storm effects, students failed to realize how many nuclear plants were being threatened.

This general lack of awareness has to do with what directly affects people and their livelihood, according to Durell Snow ’14. People need to become more informed on issues that greatly affect humanity, and not just their personal situation.



Other students agree. 

The public should be informed about potential risks, especially when it surrounds something as serious as a nuclear power plant, according to Eric Lynch ’14.

The nuclear threat did concern the greater population. The reaches of a nuclear accident are not confined to a location but can spread depending on environmental factors, such as wind.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) emphasized that all the plants have flood protection above the predicted storm surge and took measures to shut down plants if power disruption became too great for the facility, according to a Bloomberg article.

Even though diesel generators backed up the closed plants, these generators had failed in Fukushima a year ago. Members of the National Academy of Sciences argued that the NRC was putting too much at stake if they depended on the diesel generators.

After Sandy, the NRC and their efforts during the storm have come under close scrutiny. Members of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) hope Sandy will serve as a wakeup call for strengthening protection from natural disasters and the reconsideration of using nuclear power.

In hindsight, the NRC had plenty of warning about Sandy’s destructive potential. Yet, too many plants today are vulnerable to events such as dam failures that could cause rapid and severe flooding, according to members of the UCS.

But just as the NRC is coming under scrutiny, Fairfield students are challenging the media. 

“The news has become so biased in what they choose and don’t choose to show,” says Snow.

Even with a widespread threat of nuclear disaster, news sources focus more on local news. The nuclear threat is a large issue but a specific person losing their home gets more attention, according to Victoria Kan-Long ’15.

Snow’s frustration with the media’s ability to differentiate between what is or is not important for their consumers to know has led him to diversify his news sources. 

 “It’s becoming our sole responsibility to do our own research because the news has gotten so unreliable,” he says.

Kan-Long agrees that people should hold themselves personally responsible for excavating what is important when it comes to news. But students don’t focus on anything outside of the Fairfield University gates, continues Kan-Long. So if students don’t hear it about it through word of mouth then they won’t know about it.

Lynch agreed, saying, “The disaster at Fukushima alone should have set a precedent for news coverage around this issue, If the news corporations had better coverage of the nuclear danger, people would have been more aware.”

Students suggest that the government should be responsible for informing the people.

“I hope that the government reevaluates current and future procedures on how to deal with these plants, inform people on the potential dangers and carefully outline what to do in emergency situations,” says Snow.

NRC inspectors confirmed that although plants were shut down, they are now in safe condition.

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