Hurricane Irma finally plowed into the Florida Keys early Sunday morning beginning a day long raking along Florida’s west coast toward a possible landfall in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
An untold number of people refused to evacuate Key West and the other keys believing they could successfully ride out the storm.
Forecasters warned that the entire Florida peninsula — including the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people — was in peril from the monstrous storm, almost 400 miles wide.
Two Florida nuclear power plants potentially in the path of Hurricane Irma could exacerbate what is already predicted to become a major disaster for the state because nuclear emergency evacuation plans are unrealistic and likely unworkable in real life conditions, warned Beyond Nuclear, a national anti-nuclear watchdog organization said Saturday.
The nuclear emergency plans, the group said, do not account for the destruction already caused by mega-storm conditions that could see emergency workers unable to cope with an added radiological disaster.
“Hurricanes like Irma and Harvey serve as an ominous reminder that the continued existence of nuclear power plants means the risk of an accident that could lead to widespread exposure to radiation and to radioactive contamination that could last decades or longer,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear.
“This would come on top of the terrible devastation already caused by the storm itself,” he added. “Much of the radiological emergency plans presently on paper would never work in reality.”
And, some of the nation’s most contaminated toxic waste sites are also at risk from Hurricane Irma. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the EPA workers he’s spoken with seem “generally positive” about the prospects for toxic sites remaining secure in the coming hurricane. But “they can’t guarantee it 100 percent,” he told AP Saturday.
“EPA feels they got a handle on it.” he said. “They think that the risk is real but certainly not as severe as some other places. Not to minimize it — it’s something to think about.”
The predicted track of Hurricane Irma has changed many times over the past week. It seemed to be headed toward Miami causing many on the west coast of the state to feel safe and not evacuate.
More accurate predictions are possible, said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, but they require an enormous investment in research — something that the United States has failed to do, Masters told the New York Times.
Dr. Masters cited a 2007 report from the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board that concluded the United States should spend $300 million a year on “urgently needed hurricane science and engineering research and education.” That is 10 times what the nation currently spends. “They said the benefits of that investment would pay off — and now we’re seeing exactly what they were talking about,” he said.
“With climate change expected to make the strongest hurricanes stronger in coming decades, storms like Harvey and Irma will assault our coasts with increasing frequency,” Dr. Masters said. “Our hurricane vulnerability problem is going to get progressively worse unless we dedicate more resources to the problem.”