Published on Friday, August 26, 2011 by The San Francisco Chronicle
Nuclear Reactors on East Coast Brace for Hurricane Irene's Wrath
Nuclear plants in Irene's path continued to operate as workers secured loose equipment, checked diesel fuel supplies for backup generators and stowed cots and food for workers who may be stranded during the storm.
At Dominion Resources Inc.'s Millstone nuclear station, which sits on a narrow peninsula in the Long Island Sound near Waterford, Connecticut, workers were examining flood barriers and submarine doors designed to keep reactors dry from a hurricane's storm surge.
"That's part of our storm preparations: ensuring those flood barriers are in place, ready to do their job," said Ken Holt, a spokesman for Richmond, Virginia-based Dominion, in an interview yesterday.
Irene, a Category 3 hurricane, is on track to become the first major storm to strike the
More than 65 million people from
Entergy Corp.'s Indian Point plant, about 35 miles from midtown
The storm's winds pose a greater threat to the switch yards and power lines that support a nuclear plant than the reactors themselves, which sit beneath containment structures of steel- reinforced concrete, Alex Marion, vice president of nuclear operations for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group, said in an interview.
Emergency planning at nuclear plants is in the spotlight following
Power Losses Expected
PJM Interconnection LLC, the grid operator that coordinates electricity transmission across much of the region in Irene's anticipated path, is preparing for power outages caused by storm winds and falling tree branches, Ray Dotter, PJM's spokesman.
Federal rules require nuclear plant operators to shut down reactors as hurricane-force winds approach. If lesser winds cut power to a station, nuclear reactors are designed to automatically shut down and switch to backup power to keep fuel cool.
"We have identified by now the plants that could be at risk because of high winds or water surges," Dotter said in an interview. "We're looking at what would be necessary to replace them."
Storm surge is a concern for coastal plants such as Progress Energy Inc.'s
Backup Generators Ready
Other plants, including Constellation Energy Group Inc.'s Calvert Cliffs facility in
"They're all at risk of a loss of off-site power," Riccio said. If that happens, diesel generators are supposed to automatically kick in.
Federal regulations require nuclear reactors to be in a "safe shutdown condition," cooled to less than 300 degrees Fahrenheit, two hours before hurricane-force winds strike, the Nuclear Energy Institute's
To comply, plant operators typically begin shutting down reactors 12 hours before winds exceeding 74 miles per hour are predicted to arrive, said Roger Hannah, a spokesman with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Region II office in
"We closely monitor, every hour, the storm track and intensity to determine potential for impact to the site," said Indian Point's Nappi in an e-mail.
Backup generators powered Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry plant in
Diesel generators are secured behind flood-proof walls at
Although Irene's storm surge is expected to cause widespread flooding in coastal areas, it shouldn't carry the destructive force of the
With assistance from Edward Klump in
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