When I put these polls up, one of the most common responses is “Why on Earth would anyone ask *me* to do this?” That’s fair, but this is my game. ;)

But for reactor siting? The number of different fields we talk to is astounding, lest we miss something. You never know when you might get a call.

[The thirteenth in an ongoing series of my compiled explainers for my CHOOSE YOUR OWN RADIATION ADVENTURE quizzes. There’s never really a right answer but some might work out better under the constraints of the scenario. It’s like poetry, really.]

As several locals noted, Indian Point isn’t on Long Island. This also isn’t the first time someone’s tried to put a reactor on Long Island and that Shoreham was such a clusterfuck of the highest caliber that the customers of LILCO are still paying for it. Shoreham might have worked just fine, if it had ever been allowed to run, but the failure to consider how you would swiftly evacuate several million people right on the heels of Three Mile Island accident happening sort of made the plant DOA. But they finished building it, because contracts are contracts. For the record, Brookhaven National Lab, also on Long Island, hasn’t had any reactors for a while now. They do their isotope production with accelerators instead. But for this scenario, we’re going to declare that the issues that doomed Shoreham will not be a problem for us.

In light of the day that this explainer was written, a 747-equivalent plane slamming into your brand spanking new nuclear energy center is extremely credible. So much so, that this is absolutely part of the current design specifications and has been for quite a while. Even old reactors, like SONGS and McClellan, were built to take such impacts because a “whups, eat plane” incident was considered very credible due to their location. But not necessarily the out-buildings of the old power stations. As we learned courtesy of Fukushima Daiichi, those out-buildings are very important to keep the reactors actually running. If you’re gonna build one part of a power station to eat a plane, you should for all of it. 

Believing in the willingness of the military to shoot down passenger planes, of those passengers to happily die, and that a locked door on the cockpit makes everything hunky dory to protect your reactor is trying to work on the cheap. You build for credible threats. This one is.

Also unpleasantly credible, because it’s already happened once in recent memory, is inundation by hurricane. Except Hurricane Sandy was kind. Sandy, huge as it was, was merely a category 2 hurricane when it smacked NYC. That’s not the worst that the Atlantic can throw at a poor barrier island. But the danger of storm surge and wind is that, once again, your vitally important support out-buildings may get swept away or so badly flooded that the equipment in them is inoperable. ~9m storm surges are not out of the realm of possibility. For added Fun Gravy, slap another 1m on top of that for estimated sea level rise over the life of the new power station. So, we’re talking sea walls that may look familiar from episodes of The Expanse when they pan over UN HQ. This is quite credible, but will greatly exceed the budget for your power station. You’ll have to do much more local storm barriers for the site instead. This will contribute to a some what fortress like appearance for the site, including the moat-like drainage system. 

Which brings us to the tradition of strong and vigorous civic debate on Long Island. You’re already building a a nuclear facility that has to be compliant with NRC security requirements and hardened enough for MegaSandy, you’re most of the way there to hold off light irregular infantry. One of the comments yesterday was along the lines of “insurrectionists will leave it alone because they want electricity too.” This is one of those things we like to call a behavioral norm. Norms are only that right up until the moment they aren’t. It was a norm to not attack hospitals or first responders as well. We call those war crimes for a reason, not that we’ve done a great job stopping any of those lately. Seizing a nuclear power station has tremendous strategic value, as does the madman threat to destroy it.

But is a Free Long Island Army likely to stand up and be able to fight off any assisting forces that might want to help protect the power station? Ehhhhh, I’d be more worried about the power station promptly joining them because they hate Manhattan just that much. What you have is already is likely adequate to cover insurrection if you’re ready for what Planet Earth is likely to throw at you any given year.

But how about any given 10,000 years? The Azores and Canary Islands have this very bad habit of dramatically calving into the sea. I want to take moment to reflect that the “NYC Problem” is every disaster planner’s most or least favorite. It is the Kobyashi Maru scenario. You never get to “win”, you can only try make it less bad. Much like the geologic record of Seattle shares the repeated apocalyptic tsunamis from the Cascadia quakes and Mt. Rainer’s lahars scraping Puget Sound clean, the Hudson River Valley bears the scars of tsunamis caused massive underwater landslides. The tsunamis from these landslides are unpleasantly massive. Like, Michael Bay-worthy massive. Generally, when you find a xenolith (literally “alien rock”) in a New England landscape you usually assume it’s a glacial erratic, a rock from somewhere else glacially transported and left behind by the melting ice. But sometimes it’s something ripped off the seafloor and plopped in the middle of a farm.

Half of Isla Flores could fall into the ocean tomorrow but it’s the same long odds as asteroid impact. And this is one of those events where you’d have MUCH bigger problems to worry about.

The inspiration for this scenario comes from the events of the Arab Spring. Once upon a time, there was a young scientist who lived in a country that got overthrown by a dictator. Because he kept his head down, he eventually got put in charge of the reactor. This was a Soviet reactor and, well, the Soviet Union went away. US sanctions made any spare parts you might be able to adapt for use very difficult to get. But he and his crew did his best to keep things running through the decades and continuing to make radiopharmacueticals for the country’s hospitals. 

Eventually, the dictator began to shed some of his pariah status, lifting some sanctions, allowing spare parts start to flow in. The reactor instrumentation could finally be calibrated for the first time in over 15 years. 

Then the Arab Spring began. As one might guess, the dictator was not pleased with this.

Much of his country’s budget was devoted to the military, with base after base after base on a casual drive through the capital. Looking around for VERY defensible locations, the reactor facility was noticed. The reactor director suddenly found himself assigned a brigade and told to turn the nuclear center into a fortress, to protect it at all costs, and that it might be a fall back position for the dictator if needed.

The director cared about the reactor. Not so much the dictator.

The dictator died, the country collapsed. It’s been nine years but I’ve never heard from that director again nor heard the name of that nuclear center mentioned in the news. It’s still there but I couldn’t tell you who is running it these days.