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Johns Hopkins SAIS expert develops research on climate risks to nuclear power plants

New research authored by Sarah M. Jordaan, Assistant Professor of Energy, Resources and Environment at Johns Hopkins SAIS, Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, and Johns Hopkins SAIS alumna Lisa Martine Jenkins (’18), North America reporter at Chemical Watch and research assistant for Professor Jordaan, examines how climate change will result in new risks to nuclear power operations.
“Unmanaged climate risks to spent fuel from U.S. nuclear power plants: The case of sea level-rise,” published in Energy Policy warns that spent fuel sites will be subject to risks from sea-level rise. As a result, this research calls for U.S. nuclear power plants to transfer remaining overdue spent fuel from their cooling pools to dry casks and develop long-term plans for spent fuel management.
"While nuclear power has immense potential to contribute to decarbonizing the grid, climate change is set to pose new risks to many industries and nuclear is an important example,” said Jordaan. “Risk management plans need to account for these changes and with enough foresight to reduce the chance of unintended consequences."
“The potential for flooding of power reactor spent fuel storage sites due to sea level rise from global warming should become a key element of nuclear safety regulation in the United States,” said Alvarez. “However, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ignored this hazard in its recent decision to extend the operating license of the Turkey Point reactor station in Florida for 80 years - a site we concluded may be inundated over that time period.”
“In beginning this research, I was surprised that so little already existed on the impacts of climate change on spent fuel storage. Our ability to continue using nuclear power is contingent upon our ability to store its byproducts, and our results show how far we are from doing so safely, especially on the coasts,” said Jenkins. “I hope this spurs further research on climate risks beyond sea level rise, such as wildfires or extreme weather.”  
Jordaan, Alvarez, and Jenkins are available for interviews to discuss the following regarding their research:

  • Environmental risks of current nuclear waste management strategies
  • Potential comprehensive storage plans that are less vulnerable to climate change
  • Need for international nuclear treaties and standards to take climate change into account

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About Johns Hopkins SAIS
A division of Johns Hopkins University, the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) is a global institution that offers students an international perspective on today's critical issues. For 75 years, Johns Hopkins SAIS has produced great leaders, thinkers, and practitioners of international relations. Public leaders and private sector executives alike seek the counsel of the faculty, whose ideas and research inform and shape policy. Johns Hopkins SAIS offers a global perspective across three campus locations: Bologna, Italy; Nanjing, China; and Washington, D.C. The school's interdisciplinary curriculum is strongly rooted in the study of international economics, international relations, and regional studies, preparing students to address multifaceted challenges in the world today.
For more information, visit or @SAISHopkins

Friday, December 6, 2019