NRC underestimates climate risks to nuclear power, watchdog says

By Zach Bright | 04/03/2024 06:35 AM EDT

The Government Accountability Office found regulators rely on historical data when assessing how floods, wildfires and extreme weather could affect plants.

Steam rises from the cooling towers of the two original nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

The Government Accountability Office is warning that nuclear regulators may be relying on outdated information on climate change. Mary Ann Chastain/AP

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not fully consider the risk climate change poses to the country’s nuclear fleet, according to a top congressional watchdog.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that the NRC uses historical data — rather than climate projections — to identify and assess risk in initial licensing processes and during safety reviews for plants. That may underestimate how droughts, floods, wildfires and extreme weather could affect nuclear power plant operations and safety, the GAO warned.

“Commercial nuclear power plants in the United States were licensed and built an average of 42 years ago, and weather patterns and climate-related risks to their safety and operations have changed since their construction,” the GAO analysts wrote, adding that some climate impacts “are already occurring, and many are expected to continue to worsen.”

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The report comes days after the Department of Energy announced a $1.52 billion loan guarantee to restart a shuttered nuclear plant in Michigan, as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to cut planet-warming emissions while meeting growing electricity demand.

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