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Rising Sea Levels To Endanger Nuclear Future?

One of the primary reasons for the building of more nuclear power plants today is to combat global warming and climate change, as nuclear power is relatively free of carbon emissions. However if this is to be used as a reason for building more plants, then this implies that the theory of global warming and its effects, such as sea levels rising are to be believed.

If one believes in this threat then one must consider how the results of global warming might affect the existing and future nuclear power plants in the world.

Nuclear Power Station On Sea

The most dramatic aspects that must be examined is the that fact the majority of nuclear power plants need a constant supply of large volumes of water and therefore many are next to large river, lakes and the biggest water source on earth, right next to the sea. And what's supposed to be happening to sea levels with global warming?

First, let us go into the science of why a nuclear plant needs a water supply. The reason is that the plants need water for cooling, and this applies not only to nuclear plants but to coal, oil and gas power plants as well. All these plants work in the same way, they produce electricity by heating up high quality steam and pushing in through a turbine, which turns the turbine, producing electricity. After it has turned the turbine, the steam must be turned back to water before it can be used to turn the turbine again, and so water is used to cool down the steam.

Therefore many nuclear power plants are situated near rivers, canals and a great majority are on the coast. Scientists predict that sea levels could rise over 20 feet, about 7m worldwide as the polar ice caps melt in the Arctic and Antarctica as well as glaciers melting such as the massive glaciers in Greenland. So if this hypothesis comes true, what will happen to all those nuclear plants on the coast?

As our main base of operations is in England, United Kingdom, we shall begin by analysing the position of British nuclear power stations. The UK has a total of 19 nuclear reactors providing approximately 19%-20% of its electricity. If we presume that we suffer the predicted sea level rise of 7 meters then we can model the effects of this on every area of the world using SRTM the topographic database of Earth provide by NASA.

In Hartlepool, which is in the North East of England, there are two AGR reactors with a capacity of 605 MWe. Hartlepool is on the coast of England and therefore suffers greatly when we model a 7m sea level rise as the satellite hybrid image below shows.


If we look further north to the Hunterson AGR reactors, which are situated near Glasgow, on the West coast of Scotland, we see further damage to nuclear plants caused by a rise in sea levels.

Hunterson Nuclear Power Plant

Over half of the Hunterson reactor site is underwater, which will put the plant out of action and take 595 MWe of power of the grid.

Although nearly all of the plants are suffering from heavy flooding damage, not all are totally submerged. The nuclear plant facility at Sizewell, on the east coast on England's Midlands is still above sea level but the site is completely surrounded by sea and portions of the site are underwater.

Sizewell Nuclear Power Plant

Not so lucky is the nuclear plants at Dungeness on the south coast of England.

Dungeness Nuclear Power Plant

As the satellite images show, the entire area around the Dungeness nuclear site has been overrun by rising sea levels for more than 10 miles, an extreme amount of damage, destroying the Dungeness Nuclear Power Plant.

But it is not just the British nuclear installations that are going to suffer if sea levels rise. If we take a look across the Atlantic to the United States of America we also notice some damage to nuclear sites by sea level rises. The USA has the advantage that a fair number of its nuclear sites are many miles inland, on rivers, lakes and canals and as they are so far from the sea they escape the brunt of the damage. The majority of the nuclear power plants in the USA are deliberately difficult to locate on satellite imaging, for security reasons, such as the Hanford Site or codename “Site W” in Washington. This used to be a major base for the Manhattan Project and was used to provide plutonium necessary for the development of nuclear weapons. Now it is home to Columbia Generating Station and it is America's most contaminated nuclear site. However, we have managed to locate some of the American plants at risk of flooding.

These plants are generally in states that have a large amount of coastline, such as California and Florida, where the sea is used as the water source to cool the plants. Florida is especially at risk, in out humble opinion, due to the fact that the area is prone to hurricanes and severe tropical storms that could really damage nuclear sites on the coast especially when combined with a rise in sea levels of over twenty feet.

So let us take a look at Florida's nuclear plants and what would happen to them with a rise in sea levels of 7m.

First up, on Florida's west coast is the Crystal River nuclear site. Compared with other nuclear plants, Crystal River isn't too badly affected.

Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant

However it is still suffering from flood damage and it would only take one severe hurricane to flood the entire plant and devastate the Crystal River nuclear facility.

Now if we switch to the other side of Florida, the East coast, we find the St Lucie nuclear power plant, delicately positioned on a thin strip of land surrounded by the ocean.

St Lucie Nuclear Power Plant

As you can see from the satellite image above, this nuclear plant is in a much worse position than Crystal River with much of St Lucie underwater leaving the much of the plant destroyed and the facility inoperable.

Looking further south, there is a nuclear power plant at Turkey Point in Southern Florida.

Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant

Turkey Point is completely underwater, leaving the nuclear power station totally destroyed. In fact nearly all of southern Florida is submerged as the image below demonstrates.

Florida Flooded

Even the world leader in nuclear power does not escape this disaster unscathed. France gets almost 80% of its electricity from nuclear power but even its nuclear power stations are taking heavy damage. For example the plant at Penly, Saint-Martin-en-Campagne, Seine-Maritime, France, is shown below with a 7m rise in sea level.

Penly France Nuclear Power Plant

As you can see, much of the site and nearly the entire harbour wall, which crucially protects the plant from storms and extreme waves and weather conditions, are submerged.

Taking a look at other areas of the world, we jump to Brazil and see the damage done to its PWR nuclear reactor at Angra, which could suffer heavy flooding.

Angra Brazil Nuclear Power Plant

South Africa's one and only nuclear station providing a net output of 920 MWe from a PWR is damaged as sea comes to the edge of the plant at Melkbosstrand, and it only takes one storm to severely damage the plant and when storms become more and more frequent and more and more severe this heightens the risk of serious damage.

Melkbosstrand South Africa Nuclear Power Plant

In the east, India nuclear plants may also be at risk such as the Tarapur BWR in Maharashtra, which appears to be totally underwater after a rise of 7m in sea levels.

Tarapur Maharashtra India Nuclear Power Plant

I hope by now you too are realising the risk that rising sea levels causes to the world. It is not just about a few beach houses being lost; there is a serious possibility that a large number of nuclear plants could become flooded. It is bad enough that they will become inoperable, but what is a greater danger is that the plants could be destroyed or seriously damaged in a storm and could leak radioactive waste into the sea and surroundings or at worse somehow accidentally have a nuclear meltdown.

This would be a devastating environmental, political, economical and most importantly humanitarian crisis.

So, do we still support nuclear power?

Absolutely. In fact we should support nuclear power even more.
The world needs to change to nuclear power for numerous fundamental reasons, which we have covered in previous articles. This above content should not discourage the building of new plants, but accelerate the process of beginning to plan, design and build the stations. We, the world, are going to build more nuclear plants, that is a given. We need to start now in order to allow enough time to properly plan the stations and their location so we can take into account all the factors affecting the success of a plant, such as protection from rising sea levels.

If we do not start planning and building the plants now, then we may be forced to rush the building in years to come, meaning they may be built in such a way or in such a place that the risk of an accident is dramatically increased.

All of this is bullish for uranium and uranium stocks in the short term and the long term, as it means that governments should begin building sooner and before they open a plant they need 2 – 3 years of uranium and so therefore they will need to buy uranium sooner, before the uranium supply is bought for the next century or hoarded by the smarter players in the game.

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Reader Comments (13)

If you'll pardon the pun, I don't want to pour cold water on your meticulous research, but if the polar ice caps melt I think there will be a bit more to worry about than the flooding of coastal areas. Of more concern will be the huge effect on climate (and consequent extreme weather and most importantly food production) and the excacerbated effect on global warming of the earth not having the reflective assistance of the icecaps and accordingly heating up even quicker.Nobody will worry whether the lights are on or off if they can't get any food. Also where are we going to put the penguins?

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbob

Indeed there are many more devastating effects that come with global warming and climate change, but we tried to focus on the effect on the nuclear industry as it is more relevant to this website.
We may cover the other important effects, such as the penguin issue, in future articles.

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterUranium Stocks

Hmm ... you say that, "Scientists predict that sea levels could rise over 20 feet, about 7m worldwide ..." Well, yeah, but if you listen to what credible scientists are saying, this change in sea level will take well over 3000 years to occur. Even the very high end of these estimates will require over 1000 years to reach the level of seven meters of sea rise.

I think that all of these plants will be decommissioned long before then.

I'm sorry, but what is the point of this analysis?

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I think it's important to also state that not only hundreds but many thousands of nuclear power plants around the world will need to be built starting now if we are to even have a dent in global warming.

For the world to invest that heavily in an industry and energy with no future is madness, considering the unresolved problems, some of which were stated in the comment just after yours and before this one.

We can meet energy demands by reducing consumption and enforcing
energy conservation, while significantly ramping up renewable

The problems with using nuclear energy include lack of long term focus on conservation, threat of terrorist attacks, no acceptable solution to long term radioactive waste storage, providing materials for depleted uranium weapons, not a solution to climate change,
unsustainable, especially without ample fossil fuels to provide energy for construction, maintenance, decommissioning and allowing for proper future storage for nuclear waste, extreme cost to taxpayers in form of industry subsidies, and that just off of the top of my head.

Please see:

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCameron Wigmore

Agree that everything practicable should be done to conserve energy and bring in renewables asap, however like everyone in the developed world and most people in a rapidly expanding developing world, I want there to be light and heat at the click of a switch - and in the forseeable future I can only see nuclear providing this "base load" electricity without causing global warming.
PS an increasing problem is the energy demand from the developing world (the Chinese have embarked on a massive building programme of coal powerstations) - whilst the Western world can tinker with conservation and carbon exchanges, the continuing problem is how to give the rest of the world clean power. Try persuading the mandarins in Beijing to build windmills....

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbob

I'm no expert, but the numbers I've been reading for many years say that if ALL of the ice in the world melted, we would have sea level rise about 23 feet. That's all. To melt all of the global ice, it will take man hundreds of years, if it's even possible. Most global warming "experts" are only calling for less than 10 feet of sea level rise in the next 50-100 years. This shouldn't be much of a problem for most nuclear facilities.


July 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

This is truly a most interesting article by Sam Kirtley.

I've been wondering about this very thing for a while,
and I thank you for publishing it. I would like to find
out if possible, which one of these locations is shown
in the first photo at the top of the article ? I assume it
is the first location covered - Hartlepool - however, as
I am not from the UK, I have no way of knowing and it
has no identifying caption. Maybe you could pass on to
the author my question ?

July 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

You are correct it is Hartlepool.

July 8, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterUranium Stocks

I can understand that the Green perspective is for wind, solar, and wave power. I, too, would wish for more peaceful solutions to our energy needs but that is not realistic. The current energy needs of a rapidly expanding industrial world and the large expansion of 3rd world countries into western materialism indicates that these Green solutions will not be able to provide the needed demand of electricity. So, on this basis, and an acceptance that capitalism is the driving force behind any change, I have to go with the nuclear renaissance. On a personal level, I think the solutions suggested by Comment #3 would appear workable but on a large industrial scale, it is not possible. With nuclear energy the chosen course for the next 200 years, maybe we can develop these other alternatives. And I remember another writer some time ago mentioning Thorium as an alternative to uranium. Possibly this will be a more viable solution

I must say this article on the rising sea level has made me start to look at coastal communities with a new perception.

July 8, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterstoneygulch

I think the article makes a mountain out of a molehill.
You should find out what the IPCC says about their estimates of the likely rate of sea level rise.
They exaggerate plenty but it gives you a start point to find a rational estimate.
Then figure that nuc plants do not last forever.
I say that on the scale of other more meaningful global issues, there is a negligible problem of nuc plants being swamped by the sea before they would be decommissioned anyway.
You should all have a cuppa tea and a lay down.

July 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWarwick Hughes

Hi Bob,
I intended to contact you last week about your analysis of nuclear sites that could be flooded by high seas.

Firstly, at places like Dungeness they are well aware of this and have been investing in strengthening their sea defences so as to obviate any detrimental effects.

Secondly, nuclear plants are more robust than other installations and in any case the containment building (which holds the reactor) can be completely sealed off in an emergency. So there may be a temporary loss of electricity but it is unlikely that there will be any serious damage.

Thirdly, we could follow the Russians and build floating nuclear power plants.



July 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFred

So, what about Fukushima? What will the next or the next but one sarkophagus cost? Will it be possible to fight ground water build under water? Is it sure sealevel will not rise more than 10m (iirc) the next few thousand years?

I hope Tepco's engineers are more intelligent as me...

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

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