As Hurricane Irene roars up the East Coast, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has prepared for the challenge and awaits landfall.
The annual hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and the NRC staff routinely tracks each storm from formation until dissipation, constantly evaluating whether it could pose a threat to U.S. nuclear plants and other NRC-licensed facilities.
As Irene approaches the mainland, Region II in Atlanta and Region I outside Philadelphia are providing regular updates to the NRC’s Headquarters Operations Center in Rockville, Md. These briefings include information about staffing of the regional Incident Response Centers, assignment of additional staff to supplement the NRC resident inspectors at the potentially affected plants, and actions underway to ensure continuous communications with NRC-licensed facilities along the projected path of the storm.
The NRC’s regional offices have already made sure that appropriate equipment, including satellite phones, are available and operational. Before hurricane season even begins, the staff ensures that hurricane response training, computer programs and emergency contact information are all up to date. NRC inspectors also confirm that nuclear power plants in hurricane-prone areas have completed their extensive hurricane preparations.
When a storm such as Irene forms and its projected path shows possible impact on a coastline, one or more of the NRC’s regional offices begins continuous hurricane tracking using the resources of all federal agencies and commercial weather forecasting services.
Within 48 hours of expected hurricane force winds, NRC officials are dispatched to the State Emergency Operations Centers. NRC regional and headquarters personnel are identified and placed “on-call” to respond if needed to any storm-induced emergency. Normal and back-up communications channels are routinely tested.
About 12 hours before the arrival of hurricane force winds, the agency will begin receiving continuous status updates from all of the NRC-licensed facilities in the hurricane’s path. Communications links will also be established with state emergency response officials and other federal response agencies.
During the storm’s landfall, NRC staff maintains close contact with the licensee staff and with NRC resident inspectors on site. If normal communications are lost, back-up communications systems are used.
Following the hurricane, the NRC inspectors will help assess the extent of any damage to the facility and, if necessary, respond to any storm-induced problems. The agency also works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine when evacuation routes are passable and offsite emergency response organizations will be sufficiently recovered from the hurricane response to resume normal activities.
We all hope Hurricane Irene and all storms have little effect on NRC-regulated facilities and all other U.S. interests, but in any case, our advance preparation allows our staff to respond quickly and effectively.
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