Apr 3, 2024 - Technology

GAO faults nuclear agency's climate prep for reactors

Illustration of nuclear cooling tower with earth sitting on top

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new Government Accountability Office report finds that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to more fully consider climate change's possible impacts on nuclear power plants when making licensing and other decisions.

Why it matters: Many of the country's fleet of 94 operating commercial reactors that generate electricity were designed for a climate that no longer exists.

Zoom in: The GAO notes that threats to nuclear facilities range from worsened droughts, which can dry up plants' water supplies used for cooling reactors, to sea level rise and storm surge flooding.

What they're saying: Due to climate change, certain extreme weather and climate events are becoming more common and severe, like heat waves, droughts, wildfires and heavy downpours.

  • Yet the GAO concluded that the "NRC mostly uses historical data to identify and assess safety risks, rather than data from future climate projections."
  • The GAO found, based on NOAA and NRC data, that the majority of operating U.S. nuclear plants are exposed to major hazards that are increasing in frequency, severity, or both, due to warming. This includes major hurricanes and their surge-related flooding.

Read the full GAO report

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