The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is continuing to monitor impacts from
Hurricane Sandy on nuclear power plants in the Northeastern United States, including an Alert
declared at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey. The plant, currently in a
regularly scheduled outage, declared the Alert at approximately 8:45 p.m. EDT due to water
exceeding certain high water level criteria in the plant’s water intake structure.
An Alert is the second lowest of four NRC action levels. The Alert was preceded by an
Unusual Event, declared at approximately 7 p.m. EDT when the water level first reached a
minimum high water level criteria. Water level is rising in the intake structure due to a
combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. It is anticipated water levels will
begin to abate within the next several hours.
I'm sure some of you have been wondering about this. Nuclear power plants are only one part of the crucial infrastructure at risk with Hurricane Sandy this week, but one with potential to do lasting harm. Here's hoping these plants can deal with everything that's coming, because we just don't know what a storm like this will do. While Turkey Point in Florida managed to come through the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew, Sandy is much bigger in area and will sustain the high winds for a longer period:
New Jersey's nuclear plants are bracing for Sandy today, federal regulators and officials for PSEG Nuclear and Exelon said.
"We'll have to see where it goes, but it looks like it's going to have a pretty good hit on New Jersey," Sheehan said today.
Sheehan said that federal inspectors with satellite phones will be stationed at the plants through the storm.
"These plants have to be able to withstand all sorts of natural phenomena: earthquakes, severe flooding, tropical storms, lightning storms, tornadoes. They need to be able to deal with all of that," said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"We like to say they're very robust structures, they can deal with a lot of punishment, but at the same time they have procedures in place to guide them through this."
Oyster Creek, located in Lacey Township in Ocean County, is shut down for a refueling outage, the plant's owner, Exelon said in a statement. The company has a storm response team working on protecting the plant and its workers.
“Safety is our number one priority. We are prepared to protect our plant, our workers and the public no matter what this storm throws at us,” said Oyster Creek Vice President Michael Massaro in a statement. “In its 42 years of operations, Oyster Creek has withstood its share of severe weather and our storm preparations this week will ensure our readiness.”
On the western shore of south Jersey, similar preparations were underway at PSEG Nuclear's two nuclear plants located close together in Lower Alloways Creek in Salem County, about 18 miles south of Wilmington, Del.
"We continue to monitor the weather conditions," said PSEG Nuclear spokesman Joe Delmar in a statement.
Delmar said the plants will shut down if wind speeds reach 74 miles per hour at the site for longer than 15 minutes, or if the river level rises from its typical level of 89 feet to 100 feet. The highest recorded level the river has reached is 97.5 feet.
Hurricanes are one of the biggest threats to New Jersey's nuclear plants, Delmar said after the meltdowns of Japanese reactors at Fukushima were caused by an earthquake and resulting tidal waves.
[...] Sheehan also pointed to a track record of success for U.S. nuclear reactors in dealing with storms.
"Hurricane Andrew, if you go back to the 90's, hit Turkey Point in Florida head-on, and that was a much more powerful hurricane and the plant came through that," Sheehan said. "So (East Coast plants) will be positioned to deal with this."
Guess it depends on what you mean by "came through". Andrew destroyed Turkey Point's main water tank, and severely damaged the water treatment plant, and to a smokestack. There was, thankfully, no damage to the main containment buildings. But we're in entirely a new era of numerous super storms, and they can't anticipate everything.
However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have on-site inspectors at all sites that are in danger from Hurricane Sandy. They're going to stay at the plants until the storm is over.