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Hurricane Sandy and Nuclear Plants in the Mainstream Media

Meredith Angwin's picture
, Carnot Communications

Former project manager at Electric Power Research Institute. Chemist, writer, grandmother, and proponent of nuclear energy.

  • Member since 2018
  • 81 items added with 29,604 views
  • Nov 6, 2012
Hurricane Sandy

The Main Stream Press

In my post on Friday, Fear and Facts about Nuclear Plants and Hurricanes, I quoted nuclear opponents and nuclear supporters about the hurricane’s probable effects on nuclear plants. I concluded that opponents and supporters were publishing only in friendly venues. Both sides were Preaching to the Choir.

The question then became: what did the main stream press think of this all? Basically, the main stream press wants a story: a new and dramatic narrative that will grab the readers’ attention.  To put it bluntly, the nuclear power plants weren’t a story.

You see, I would like to write a blog post that nuclear plants were treated better in the press because nuclear communicators were doing such a bang-up job.  But I have come to the conclusion it had very little to do with us.  There were thousands of stories as New York City was ravaged, people drowned in their houses in New Jersey, hospitals were evacuated. It quickly became clear that the nuclear plants weren’t a story.

In at least one case, the industry fought back to the scaremongering. That’s my kind of story.  So I’ll start with that.

The Business Press: Fighting Back Against Scare-Mongering

A Bloomberg Business Week article was titled: Nuclear Power Industry Survives Sandy’s Readiness Test.

 Kasia Klimasinska and Brian Wingfield quoted Gundersen as follows (note Gundersen’s sequence of “ifs”. I find Gundersen to be rather “iffy”.) Gundersen said that if Oyster Creek was generating power, and the flood waters been just 6 inches deeper, it could have knocked out the pumps and triggered a disaster.

Now, what do you expect the plant owners would say about that?  I know what I expected: “Oyster Creek makes safe operation its highest priority (etc etc blah blah).”  To my surprise and happiness, Exelon actually said: “That is unequivocally false, Oyster Creek has numerous, redundant sources of reactor and spent-fuel pool cooling that would be fully operational regardless of the water levels mentioned,” Exelon’s Tillman said.

The Exelon comment was wonderful.  Every now and again, I get to root for my team, because they are actually playing!

More Business Press

A Forbes article was titled: Don’t Politicize Sandy. Hurricane Normal Problem for Nukes.

Jim Conca wrote: Although those with real ideological issues against nuclear energy may have gotten bit excited, there is nothing so far to worry about with respect to the nuclear plants. There is no special issue or peculiar risk here for the nuclear plants in the path of Hurricane Sandy. 

He commented further: I truly respect Amy Goodman, but I wish she had asked a real nuclear expert to talk with her on Democracy Now! yesterday, not an anti-nuke activist like Arnie Gundersen who doesn’t really know the nuclear technical stuff, but only cares about politics. 


There’s a website about small cap stocks. Small Cap Network. It’s not  exactly the huge business press, but it has its audience. Their article was Nuclear Plants in the Path of Hurricane Sandy (And Anti-Nuclear Activists).

The article starts: Anti-nuclear activists and the media have apparently wasted no time to try and get people panicked about the 26 nuclear plants in the path of Hurricane Sandy.

The article ends: The Bottom Line. Don’t pay any attention to scary stories about nuclear plants being threatened by hurricanes like Hurricane Sandy. Instead, pay attention to what happens in the aftermath of the storm as Dominion Resources, Entergy Corporation, Exelon Corporation, Public Service Enterprise Group and PPL Corporation and their nuclear plants face more scrutiny from regulators…. 


Main Stream Press: Following the Real Story

First, the New York Times story by Matt Wald:  Nuclear Plants Get Through the Storm with Little Trouble, which says pretty much what the title implies.

John Horgan at Scientific American asks Does Sandy Mean We Should Have Fewer Nuclear Plants or More?   He concludes that, due to global warming, we should definitely have more nuclear plants.

Meanwhile the mainstream press is following the real stories, not the scare stories.  For example, ProPublica asked Why Do Hospital Generators Keep Failing?  Three New York City area hospitals had to be evacuated when their generators (badly placed or badly maintained) failed.  Hundreds of critically ill patients had to be moved.

The real stories. Gas has been difficult-to-impossible to obtain, the port of New York was shut for an extended time, lines of ambulances were pulled into service to evacuate hospitals, people drowned in their homes in New Jersey and  Lower Manhattan.  These are the stories the newspapers are covering.

Nuclear opponents are probably gnashing their teeth that their carefully-contrived “what if” scenarios are being neglected. But the press is busy with the true, painful, sad stories of Hurricane Sandy.

The nuclear plants were okay, as pretty much everyone expected.


Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Nov 7, 2012

Storms are yet another reason for locating multiple small nuclear power plants near cities, providing independent power sources without long, vulnerable transmission lines.

Michael Boyter's picture
Michael Boyter on Nov 9, 2012

Give me a break, you have an EX GE Employee reporting and you expect her to be objective about safety issues with GE's Nuclear Reactors?  The GE FUKUSHIMA designed plants are ticking time bombs for problems,  There has never been a worse designed plant as shown by the results of  3 core meltdowns into the earth in Fukushima.  The fact that your publication rely's on this kind of reporting and expects it to be objective is very dissappointing to me.  Why don't you mention the fact that TEPCO just came up with 150 Billion dollar price tag to clean up the mess from these wonderfully designed reactors? Why don't you discuss the fact that Reactor #4 at Fukushima's holding the most amoiunt of spent fuel is the most dangerous situation on the planet if this cracked and broken swimming pool suspended over the blowout  remains of the reactor, is dangerously damaged and a relatively small earthquake will droo  80X more radioactive spent fuel rods into a very dangerous situatioin.  How about some facts?  GE  How much responsibllity do you take for the Global Disaster Spewing Radiation into the Ocean and Atmosphere on its way to Hawaii and the West coast of California,  Thanks GE you tax free wonder company!

Meredith Angwin's picture
Meredith Angwin on Nov 10, 2012


I am not going to write a long note refuting your Many Capital Letters email.  Your fact-checking on Fukushima is about the same as your fact-checking on my work history.  In other words, dead wrong.  

I have never worked for GE.  As a matter of fact, I have never worked for GE, Westinghouse, B&W, or Combustion Engineering (the big reactor suppliers, back when America built big equipment).  I worked for the Electric Power Research Institute. I was a project manager first in the renewable group, then in the nuclear group. My speciality is water chemistry and corrosion-resistant materials.  I also had private contracts with utilities after I left EPRI and set up my own consulting company.   

Perhaps, from your perspective, all big companies are alike. Interchangeable. Maybe I "might as well have" worked for GE.   I don't share that view.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Nov 11, 2012

Can you at least acknowledge that A Magnitude 7.4 earthquake followed by a 10 ft Tsunami may have had something to do with the failure of the cooling systems at Fukushima?

Of course Several generations 3 and 4 designs would have kept going safely in spite of these natural disasters, but  it is wrong to make it sound as though the GE designs were bad in the first place.

Ignorance is Not bliss.

Meredith Angwin's picture
Thank Meredith for the Post!
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