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Page added on October 30, 2012

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U.S. nuclear plant declares “alert” after Sandy storm surge


Exelon Corp declared an “alert” at its New Jersey Oyster Creek nuclear power plant due to a record storm surge, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said, warning that a further water rise could force the country’s oldest working plant to use emergency water supplies to cool spent uranium fuel rods.

The alert — the second lowest of four NRC action levels — came after water levels at the plant rose by more than 6.5 feet, potentially affecting the pumps that circulate water through the plant, an NRC spokesman said late on Monday.

Those pumps are not essential since the 43-year-old plant was shut for planned refueling since October 22. However, a further rise to 7 feet could submerge the service water pump motor that is used to cool the water in the spent fuel pool.

Exelon said in a statement that there was no danger to equipment and no threat to public health or safety.

The incident at Oyster Creek, which is about 60 miles east of Philadelphia on the New Jersey Coast, came as Sandy made landfall as the largest Atlantic storm ever, bringing up to 90 mile per hour (mph) winds and 13-foot storm surges in the biggest test of the industry’s emergency preparedness since the Fukushima disaster in Japan a year and a half ago.

Although such alerts are considered serious events in the industry — with only about a dozen such instances in the past four years, according to NRC press releases — flood waters should be receding at the plant following high tide, reducing the risk of emergency action.

Sandy had been expected to force the closure of at least two other nuclear plants in New Jersey, although the NRC said none of the country’s other nuclear reactors had been shut by the storm.

The NRC spokesman said the company could use water from a fire suppression system to cool the pool if necessary. The used uranium rods in the pool could cause the water to boil within 25 hours without additional coolant; in an extreme scenario the rods could overheat, risking the eventual release of radiation.

Exelon spokesman David Tillman said the plant has “multiple and redundant” sources of cooling for the spent fuel pool. He said he did not know whether the service water system was operational at the moment.


Constellation Energy Nuclear Group’s 630-MW Nine Mile Point 1 nuclear power reactor in upstate New York did shut down due to a problem putting power onto the grid, although it was not clear whether the trouble was related to the storm, the NRC spokesman said.

The relatively small 636-megawatt Oyster Creek plant also experienced a “power disruption” at its switch yard, causing two backup diesel generators to kick in and maintain a stable source of power, Exelon said.

Tillman said another Exelon reactor at the Limerick facility in Pennsylvania was reduced to 91 percent power after Sandy caused a problem with the condenser.

An alert-level incident means there is a “potential substantial degradation in the level of safety” at a reactor.

“Given the breadth and intensity of this historic storm, the NRC is keeping a close watch on all of the nuclear power plants that could be impacted,” NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane said.

The concerns over the status of the spent fuel pool at Oyster Creek was reminiscent of the fears that followed the Fukushima disaster last year, when helicopters and fire hoses were enlisted to ensure the pools remained filled with fresh, cool water. The nuclear industry has said that the spent fuel rods at Fukushima were never exposed to the air.

Nuclear plants must store the spent uranium fuel rods for at least five years in order to cool them sufficiently before they can be moved to dry cask storage containers.

The plant uses pumps to take in external water that circulates through a heat exchanger used to cool the internal water that surrounds the rods, keeping them from overheating.


8 Comments on "U.S. nuclear plant declares “alert” after Sandy storm surge"

  1. Others on Tue, 30th Oct 2012 2:11 pm 

    So Nuclear power is safe. Lets build more nuclear plants.

  2. Beery on Tue, 30th Oct 2012 3:32 pm 

    “…a further rise to 7 feet could submerge the service water pump motor that is used to cool the water in the spent fuel pool.”

    So here’s a thought – how about keeping the pump motor, oh I dunno, a few feet ABOVE a potential storm surge. Just an idea. I mean, it’s not like it’s a big deal – not as if a pump motor breakdown during an emergency could cause a core meltdown or anything… oh wait.

    When one considers that they designed a nuclear power plant with a pump motor situated on the first floor in an area that could be hit by a hurricane, it makes one wonder what sort of safety concerns (if any) were brought up when these plants got built.

    I mean, does it really take that much intelligence to realize that pumps need to be above the level that water can reach?

  3. BillT on Tue, 30th Oct 2012 3:41 pm 

    Beery, that costs money and reduces the profits the owners can use to buy their next yacht or jet. Besides, the taxpayer will pay for the cleanup and cancer. And most of them were built by GE.

  4. Beery on Tue, 30th Oct 2012 5:11 pm 

    True, I forgot about the owners’ need for yachts and jets.

  5. Rebecca on Tue, 30th Oct 2012 8:56 pm 

    I know, let’s not plan for “once in a hundred years” storm or other natural disaster when building a nuke plant. I mean, what are the odds that a storm like that will hit??

  6. Kenz300 on Wed, 31st Oct 2012 1:36 pm 

    The disaster at Fukishima continues today with no end in sight.

    It looks like nuclear regulators and power plant operators learned very little about safety from the lessons of Fukishima.

    Nuclear energy is too costly and too dangerous.

    Wind, solar, wave energy and geothermal keep getting cheaper and more competitive even before you add in the environmental and health concerns.

  7. PrestonSturges on Wed, 31st Oct 2012 3:10 pm 

    Those spent fuel rod pools are built to roughly the same standards as kiddy pools. If the rods are exposed to air, they can catch fire. The explosions in Japan left these things scattered in the parking lot.

  8. Brittany on Sat, 3rd Nov 2012 3:39 pm 

    For all who like to complain or question the safety of these reactors without looking at the research being done or the dozens of safety measures put into place to protect these plants and the public, you may want to do so. Compairing most of the plants in the U.S is absurd given the fact that they are nowhere near the same design and they do not function or produce power in the same way. Something a little reliabe research will tell you. Sure, we can stick you all in a place completely powered by solar, wind, and whatnot, but goodluck with your constant blackouts because it is obvious to anyone who decides to actually become educated in these things, that these kinds of energy do not supply nearly enough power to be a type of main energy source. Given that nuclear power IS safe and is the strongest source of power, it would be very very foolish to stop building them.

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