The Role of a Meteorologist at the NRC

Most of us rely on meteorologists to tell us what the weather will be like on the weekend or if a hurricane will hit our town or how many inches of snow we might expect. But meteorologists at the NRC play a different – and very important – role in this country. We help determine how weather conditions can influence the design and location of new nuclear power plants.

Specifically, meteorologists from the agency’s Office of New Reactors assist in reviewing license applications for new plants, selecting sites for possible future plants, and assessing new plant designs. For example, meteorologists such as myself determine whether the new plant may affect areas close to the site through the release of heated water vapor from the cooling towers. We also model the effects of the plant using local site data to determine if there will be any changes in local or regional air quality conditions.

Equally important to our work is reviewing how the weather affects the plant. This includes studying how different types of severe weather, such as large amounts of rain and snow, hurricanes, tornadoes, and high and low temperatures can affect how the plant is designed and operates. All of these conditions are examined to ensure the plant stays safe during severe weather conditions.

Each new plant site has a weather station that measures wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and rain. We visit these weather stations to ensure that they are providing accurate weather data. The weather data are reviewed by the meteorologists and processed by computer programs so that the NRC health physicists can use the results to study how well the plant is protecting people and the environment.

Although the weather is generally unpredictable more than a few days in advance, we use all available resources to help ensure any new nuclear plant can operate safely during its lifetime!

Kevin Quinlan