U.S. NRC Blog

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Category Archives: Emergency Preparedness and Response

Update: As the Blizzard Moves Out of the Mid-Atlantic

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

UPDATE: As an update to the downpower and then shutdown of Calvert Cliffs Unit 1, the plant has restarted and once again began sending power to the electrical grid as of about 1:30 a.m. today (Jan. 26). The plant was returned to service after the main transformer cable that had become disconnected, apparently as a result of blizzard-driven winds, was fixed. That issue led to the plant reduction in power during the storm. Repairs were also made to address condenser tube leakage that was identified and led to a decision to shut down the plant on Monday morning. NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to the plant tracked the repair work and the unit’s restart.

As of Sunday afternoon, only one nuclear power plant in Region I may have been directly impacted by the blizzard. (Region I covers the Northeastern U.S.)

Power output at Calvert Cliffs Unit 1, in southern Maryland, was reduced to just under 15 percent on Saturday evening after an electrical cable associated with a main transformer was found to be disconnected. It was not immediately clear if the storm was responsible for the cable coming loose. The downpower was needed to facilitate repairs.

While upstate New York was expected to be spared much of the intensity of the winter storm, the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant was shut down by its operators at about 10:40 p.m. Saturday after icing impacted the facility’s flow of cooling water drawn from Lake Ontario. Power had already been reduced to about 50 percent at the Scriba, N.Y., plant due to lowering water intake levels at the time of the manual scram (shutdown).

The plant was safely shut down and the NRC’s Senior Resident Inspector for FitzPatrick traveled to the site to independently verify plant conditions and observe operator actions. The single-unit boiling-water reactor remained out of service as of this morning as troubleshooting and follow-up activities continued.

After the Pilgrim nuclear power plant experienced several winter storm-related shutdowns in recent years, the plant’s owner, Entergy, was prepared to conduct a pre-emptive shutdown of the facility should certain severe weather conditions occur. The NRC has been closely monitoring any effects of the blizzard on the Plymouth, Mass., site and has confirmed that there have been no significant impacts at the facility and certainly none that would have triggered the pre-emptive shutdown criteria.

On a similar note, the NRC has kept close tabs on the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, in Lacey Township, N.J. During Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012, water levels on the canal from which the plant draws cooling water reached levels that caused the declaration of an “Unusual Event” – the lowest level of emergency classification used by the NRC – and later an “Alert” – the next rung up on the emergency classification ladder. The water levels did not reach those levels during this storm and therefore no emergency declarations were necessary.

COOP – Not Where Chickens Roost

John Biddison
Senior Emergency Response Coordinator

While the weather’s been quite mild on the East Coast so far this winter, that might change by the end of the week, according to weather forecasts.

NRC Icy frontPeople who’ve lived around Washington, D.C., for a while likely recall 2010’s back-to-back blizzard “Snowmageddon” that limited the city’s ability to function. The NRC, along with the other federal agencies headquartered near Washington, is ready to keep working in situations even worse than that.

How? We use COOP.

In “government speak,” COOP means Continuity of Operations – how the federal government keeps working even if potential weather or other severe events in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area disrupt the normal operations of a federal government agency.

The NRC tests its detailed COOP plan periodically. This includes participating in an annual federal COOP exercise, which takes many months to plan and several days to carry out.

Under the NRC COOP plan, NRC staff finds alternate places and ways to continue their work – this might mean staff members telework or physically relocate to alternate work stations. Staff in other locations can also take on new or different responsibilities. Certain vital mission functions that absolutely must continue are pre-identified. Other less critical functions might be temporarily suspended.

The NRC is revising and improving its plan based on new information, such as input from the last national exercise. For instance, we are updating information technology plans, enhancing decision-making, and providing our staff with additional guidance. We also recently enhanced our emergency communications with our staff and the public.

Planning for COOP is one of the most important things the federal government and the NRC does. It’s planning we all hope never to have to use, but it’s vital to have during unexpected events or emergencies.

Putting Crisis Communication Plans to the Test

jicPublic Affairs staffers Roger Hannah, Stephanie West and Joey Ledford work together in the Joint Information Center during the national level exercise dubbed Southern Exposure 2015. It included dozens of federal, state and local agencies working together under a scenario of a simulated nuclear power plant accident in South Carolina. For the full story, go here.

Working Together — The Southern Exposure 2015 Exercise

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region II

NRC officials participate in an exercise at the headquarters Op Center. The Op Center will be active during the upcoming Southern Exposure 2015 exercise.

NRC officials participate in an exercise at the headquarters Operations Center. The Operations Center will be active with officials participating during the upcoming Southern Exposure 2015 exercise.

Every year, NRC managers and staff members in headquarters and the agency’s four regions participate in nuclear power plant emergency exercises. The plants are required to exercise their plans every other year, and NRC response team members use these exercises to keep their skills sharp and to identify areas for improvement. The exercises provide valuable experience and make each plant’s overall emergency response program better.

State and local responders and the plant staff have a crucial role in each of those exercises, but many federal agencies that would be involved in an actual serious nuclear emergency rarely participate.

In a little more than a week, the NRC, along with state and local officials in South Carolina, Duke Energy, FEMA and the Department of Energy, will stage a full-scale exercise at the Robinson nuclear plant in South Carolina. It’s being called Southern Exposure 2015. This exercise will bring together not only the usual exercise participants, but also many other agencies that would have a role in a real event.

In addition to the NRC, FEMA and DOE, federal agencies participating include the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Labor, the Interior, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Southern Exposure 2015 will begin on Tuesday, July 21, with activities much like the exercises the NRC regularly sees. On Wednesday, July 22, the NRC will be joined by those other federal agencies in a broad response to the simulated events at the Robinson plant. The NRC and the other federal agencies will work closely with state and local officials and Duke Energy’s plant operators and managers to achieve the objectives of the exercise.

Victor McCree, the Regional Administrator for Region II, will serve as the NRC’s Site Team Director for Southern Exposure 2015, leading the NRC team in South Carolina. The NRC will also support the exercise with staff in the regional office in Atlanta and headquarters in Rockville, Md.

While McCree has participated in countless exercises, he acknowledges this one is unique. It’s a rare opportunity, he said, to work with so many organizations across federal, state and local governments as well as the private sector.

People living and traveling near the Robinson plant during the exercise may hear and see actions associated with the simulated response. These could include response vehicles, field monitoring teams and low-flying aircraft, but the exercise should not affect normal traffic or other activities in the area.

While the likelihood of a severe nuclear accident in this country is low, the Southern Exposure 2015 exercise is designed to allow all the organizations involved, federal, state and local, to address the simulated accident’s effects on the economy, environment and public health – and be better prepared to respond if the events were real.

NRC — Ready for the 2015 Hurricane Season UPDATED

Update: Due to Hurricane Bill, the South Texas Project nuclear power plant, located near Bay City, Texas, has started tropical storm/hurricane procedures. Actions taken include performing a plant walkdown to secure and tie down anything that could be become a projectile missile or flying debris. The plant operator has implemented restrictions for employees to stay inside if winds get above 40 mph. Today, winds are projected to be sustained at 50 mph with gusts up to 60 mph. Both units are at full power unless winds reach speeds above 75 mph, but that is not expected at this time. They have additional staff onsite and supplies (cots, food, water). The resident inspectors are not evacuating and an additional group of NRC inspectors has been on site and will remain so to back up the residents if need be. (At this time the hurricane is not expected to affect River Bend or Waterford nuclear power plants, but the NRC’s Region IV will continue to monitor the projected path.)

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region II

The hurricane season officially began June 1, but this year the Carolina coast experienced a tropical storm named Ana in early May. While Ana produced winds of more than 60 miles an hour near the Brunswick nuclear plant, there was no major damage. It did, however, serve as an early reminder of the NRC’s role in ensuring nuclear plants remain safe during damaging winds and storm surges.

A hurricane as seen by satellite. Be assured, it's not happening now.

A hurricane as seen by satellite. Be assured, it’s not a current photo and is NOT happening now.

The NRC has years of experience with hurricanes and other severe storms. Nuclear facilities were affected by Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992, by Katrina in Louisiana in 2005, by Sandy along the East Coast in 2012 and by many others. Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts fewer storms this year than the historical average, any storm can be dangerous.

How does the NRC oversee the safety of nuclear plants and other facilities during these storms?

The NRC staff monitors tropical storms as they form, and if the projected path is towards the coast, the agency’s regional offices begin continuous tracking. If a storm’s path shows the possibility of it affecting a nuclear plant or other NRC-licensed facility, the NRC collects more information on the storm and NRC resident inspectors check the plant’s preparations. Depending on the projections, additional NRC inspectors may be dispatched to some nuclear plants.

Around 12 hours before predicted hurricane-force winds, nuclear facilities that may be in the path provide the NRC updates and NRC inspectors monitor the plant staff’s actions. Plant procedures require the plant operators to shut the reactor down if winds greater than a certain speed are expected on the plant site.

Nuclear plants are built to withstand all expected local meteorological events, including hurricanes, and actual storms have shown that plants can safely shut down and with little or no damage to important safety equipment.

The NRC stays in contact with plants and NRC inspectors on site as the storm passes over, and the agency has backup systems if regular communications channels are lost.

Once the storm is over, the NRC and FEMA assess damage and make sure local emergency response organizations can resume their normal roles. If the plant shut down, it will only be restarted after the NRC is satisfied there is no damage to safety equipment and emergency response capabilities have been restored.

Fortunately, most tropical storms and hurricanes do not adversely affect nuclear plants, but the NRC is ready in case one does.


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