The Relative Calm After the Storm — UPDATED

Credit: NASA/NOAA

11/2/2012 — Update: Here is some additional information that might be of interest: Circulating-water pumps at Salem Unit 1 were affected by the storm and taken out of operation, but they were not damaged. When several of the pumps were no longer able to perform their function because of high river levels and debris in the waterway, the plant operators followed procedures and manually shut down the reactor. Once the reactor was off-line, the plant operators followed procedures and used back-up systems, including atmospheric steam dump valves, to deal with residual heat. The plant was safely shut down. The NRC worked to provide regular updates on the situation at Salem Unit 1 and other affected plants via press releases, our blog and Twitter.

The Oyster Creek nuclear power plant did not, at any point, lose the ability to pump cooling water from the intake canal. The concern was that the motors for the pumps could be rendered inoperable if water levels in the water intake structure rose too high. That did not happen, however. Also, plant personnel stationed a portable pump at the intake structure as a precaution in case the pumps were impacted. As such, the ability to continue to keep the fuel assemblies in the spent fuel pool cool was at no point compromised.

The NRC strives for openness and transparency and will continue to do so as we gather additional information about plant performance during this historic storm.

 

There’s a feeling of normalcy in the NRC’s Region I today. After days of tracking Sandy and assuring the nuclear power plants in the Northeastern U.S. were in a safe condition, the storm is now out of the area and we’re open and back to business as usual.

Beginning last week – well in advance of the storm – nuclear power plant workers in the potential path of the storm took steps to prepare the site, such as tying down loose equipment, removing debris that could become projectiles, and topping off water and fuel tanks. NRC inspectors assured they took all of the appropriate steps.

As Sandy made its way toward the coast, the agency stationed inspectors around the clock at all of the plants that could experience effects of the storm, and agency response experts monitored the storm from our emergency response centers, and tracked it as it traveled inland.

While a number of plants reduced power or needed to shut down, all plants made it through the storm safely.

Oyster Creek, which declared an Alert Monday night when a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge caused water level to rise in the intake structure, exited the Alert early Wednesday morning. The plant also regained off-site power, which it had lost during the storm. (Emergency diesel generators provided back-up power in the interim.)

Three nuclear power plants shut down during the storm. Indian Point 3 and Nine Mile Point 1 due to grid disturbances, and Salem Unit 1 due to high water level and debris affecting the circulating water pumps. Preparations are underway at each of those sites to return them to service.

The plants that reduced power, Millstone 3, Limerick Units 1 and 2, and Vermont Yankee are at or near full power today.

The NRC and the nuclear plant operators worked hard to assure that the plants were safe over the weekend. In all, dozens of NRC staff members spent days preparing for and responding to the storm. While our thoughts are with those who have lost so much to the storm, we are satisfied that we did our jobs to respond quickly and effectively to the challenges the storm posed to the nuclear power plants we regulate.

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

20 thoughts on “The Relative Calm After the Storm — UPDATED”

  1. yes i agree with that there are two separate pump controls at salem..Our Oil Smart® System incorporates pump controls and alarm sensors that differentiate between oil and water, allowing companies to responsibly discharge the water without worrying about contamination.

  2. thank you for the post and sharing this info with us. very intersting

  3. Please could we skip the lame talking points? They don’t help the understanding of the technical issues where people had questions. The NRC isn’t responsible for the oil or coal industry. Nuclear technology has a number of risks that are unique to that industry. If your worried about the risks from the oil and coal industry please lobby congress to have more oversight put on those industries.
    This argument about other industries explained here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_equivalence

  4. Do you think your local gas or oil or coal-fired facility or chemical plant feels obliged to hand you machinery maintenance/malfunction reports, even though those energy sources have killed and injured far far more combined than nuclear plants ever has worldwide in over sixty years?

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  5. Thanks for continuing to follow up on this. The additional information is appreciated. PSEG’s statement that pumps were damaged is problematic, if the NRC’s explanation is what happened. There is a significant difference between what PSEG told Platts and what the NRC is saying is the detail of the situation, that pumps were pulled out of service and needed inspection.

    I’m pretty sure the NRC can’t tell the operators how to run their public communications department but the operators miss-communication and discrepancies caused considerable problems. People were worried and the inconsistent information (or lack of information) added to that. The NRC could have updated people faster, I think that would have helped. The operators really need more honest, detailed & timely public communications. The operators don’t seem to care if they cause an additional problem by their actions or lack of actions. If the operators refuse to do so maybe the NRC needs more latitude and funding to make up for the need for communication the operators are failing to provide. Or maybe there needs to be some “ground rules” for public communication for all parties involved?

  6. Here is updated information on what happened to the circulating-water pumps at the Salem Unit 1 nuclear power plant during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29:

    The Salem Unit 1 plant is equipped with six circulating-water pumps, which supply cooling water to the plant’s condenser from the Delaware River. At the plant’s water intake structure, there are screens to strain out debris and keep such extraneous material from entering the plant. After the storm passed, the screens had to be inspected. Damage was identified to two of six screens. Divers recovered grating that was displaced by wave action and fell into the water just in front of the screens. Again, none of the circulating-water pumps was damaged by the storm, but they could not be restarted prior to the inspection and repair of the screens.

    To reiterate what happened during Sandy, the pumps were removed from service in response to the clogging of the screens. That clogging prevented sufficient water from flowing from the river to these large-volume circulating-water pumps. Plant operators, following procedures for such situations, manually tripped, or shut down, the reactor when these conditions presented themselves.

    As of this morning (Nov. 6), Salem Unit 1 was back at 100-percent power.

  7. PSEG didn’t give the impression to Platts that it was major damage. They initially were shooting for about 24 hours to get repairs done per their quote at Platts. I could find nothing on PSEG’s website about any of this over the last week. They certainly get a “fail” on communications.

  8. Apparently if there was damage to the circulators it was minor since as of today Salem Unit 1 is at 100% power.
    PSEG does do a pretty lousy job of communicating though.

  9. I think the reports are pretty clear. The non-safety circulating water pumps were clogged and tripped due to lack of suction (NPSH). As a result, they were on the verge of losing condenser vacuum (due to loss of condenser cooling), and manually shut the plant down. Injection was provided by aux-feedwater and heat removal was provided by atmospheric steam dumps, both of which are safety-related. The plant was well within its operational design criteria. Clogging of intake structures has occurred about 3-4 times in the last year and has all progressed similarly to Salem.

    Circ water pumps are non-safety and the loss of them, while it does cause a transient on the plant, does not impact safety of the facility. Circ water pumps are not used for any safety related cooling of the facility, as typical of PWR plant designs.

  10. The NRC requires U.S. nuclear power plants to have at least one emergency generator (and most have two of equal capacity) per reactor; these generators, diesel-powered in all but one case, can power all the systems needed to safely shut a reactor down and keep it in a safe state. The diesel generators are regularly inspected, maintained and regularly torn down and rebuilt to ensure their reliability – if an inspection shows a diesel is unavailable, a plant would have to shut down until it was again ready to do its job. U.S. nuclear power plants must have an onsite fuel supply to run all of a site’s diesels for several days, as well as reliable means of resupplying the fuel.

    Oyster Creek’s diesels ran without a problem until the plant’s grid connection was fixed. All U.S. plants also have additional portable generators capable of powering key safety systems until a regular electricity source is available. Oyster Creek had its backup generator ready but it wasn’t needed.

    Every U.S. nuclear power plant practices emergency procedures with local, state and NRC officials, with detailed plans to take the actions to protect the population within 10 miles of a plant. Repeated analysis of accident scenarios shows people in the 10-mile zone can be protected, and the emergency plans can then be expanded to a larger area in the unlikely event that’s necessary.

    The NRC does practice carrying out its mission without the resources of our headquarters complex in Rockville, Md., (many miles from both the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean). In fact, NRC Headquarters was closed to all but emergrency personnel on Oct. 29 and 30, with many NRC staff working from home, in conjunction with staff in the regional offices, to monitor U.S. nuclear power plants in the area potentially affected by Sandy.

  11. Another news outlet is reporting in detail about pump damage at Salem. :
    “But just after 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, while Sandy’s eye was barreling down on the Jersey Shore, the high waves in the river swamped four of the six massive pumps in a building along the river’s edge which pull in the water through a 40-foot wide conduit jutting into the river. The loss of these pumps caused a chain reaction of events:

    The loss of river water meant the steam in the secondary loop was no longer being condensed, sending hot steam back into the carefully calibrated system.
    The added work load, coupled with accumulating junk clogging Salem’s underwater intake pipe, caused the two remaining pumps to fail.
    With its cooling system compromised, operators stopped the fission process by slamming the boron control rods into the reactor.”

    Could someone please give a straight answer on what went down at Salem. If the wave damaged the pumps and they had to fix them as the operator is admitting just say so. The public deserves details and the comments (not from the NRC) that people should just shut up and stop asking questions is inexcusable and are quite obviously from nuclear industry people. We deserve clear details. It seems the worry is it might expose a weakness that needs to be dealt with at a plant. If there is so be it, if it is a considerable risk it should be talked about. If it isn’t and it is routine repair, damage, clean up just give people the details and there would be far less worry. The lack of information has caused more anxiety for people in the region than the actual information that has come out.

  12. Could someone comment on the discrepancy between what PSEG told the media and what the NRC is reporting. Platts quotes a PSEG official as saying this:
    “Ralph Izzo said during a press teleconference Wednesday morning. One of five pumps has been repaired, and the other four are expected to be repaired Wednesday, Izzo said.”

    Repaired implies broken. Not taken out of service as a precaution. Why would the operator be admitting the pumps needed repair if they didn’t?
    re·pair 1 (r-pâr)
    v. re·paired, re·pair·ing, re·pairs
    v.tr.
    1. To restore to sound condition after damage or injury; fix: repaired the broken watch.
    2. To set right; remedy: repair an oversight.
    3. To renew or revitalize.
    4. To make up for or compensate for (a loss or wrong, for example).

    Izzo a PSEG official says the PUMPS needed repair, not unclogging the intakes or resetting equipment etc. in order to restart. When I looked last night Salem was still at 1% so it looks like they are still dealing with whatever the storm did. This discrepancy is disturbing as is the one seen with Oyster Creek reporting where the operator, Exelon cited 7.4 feet surge (to Reuters) at the intakes but the NRC documents 6.8 feet. It doesn’t make sense that the operators would both be over stating conditions to the negative to the media. It would really be nice if this was cleared up. I do appreciate the NRC responses and trying to get the public more information.

  13. Ah, once again we find ourselves at the crossroads of a major nuclear enigma. Unfortunately as we all know there is a significant nor’easter heading for the shores of the Atlantic and once again, Oyster Creek — one of the world’s oldest nuclear facilities (2 years senior to Fukushima) — is at risk.

    So now we must ask ourselves a few questions:

    1. When the plant inevitably loses off-site power how much fuel do you have to continue running those old diesel generators?
    2. How many generators are there? (i.e. how many redundant sources of power do we have)?
    3. How will you alert the 1.5 million people who live in a 50 mile radius of the plant?
    4. G-d forbid there was a need for an evacuation; what are your procedures for evacuating the most populated state in the nation?
    5. Are you equipped to handle these issues in the off chance that your headquarters (ironically located along the shore in Rockland, Maryland) are closed?

    You’re the professionals of course, and I’m sure all of these issues are being discussed privately with the help of our generous tax funding. Good luck to us all and thank you for your continued cooperation.

    We will be looking for prompt and relevant updates during the next few days. This issue is being watched.

    Thank you for your time.

  14. Thanks for share.Could the NRC please provide specific data rather than “assurances”? There were a number of specific questions posted about the ongoing status of specific pieces of equipment at both Oyster Creek and Salem during the events.

  15. Since there is no reports of any pumps being damaged it would seem that none need repair.
    Oyster Creek is in a refueling outage and will restart when refueling is completed along with the requisite post refueling testing. Salem will probably restart when there is a need for it’s output, right now there isn’t much demand with all the outages in New Jersey.

  16. Yes please. Could the NRC please provide specific data rather than “assurances”? There were a number of specific questions posted about the ongoing status of specific pieces of equipment at both Oyster Creek and Salem during the events. Could the NRC please provide more information on the water pump damage at Salem? Have any pumps been repaired yet? Do they have an ETA on a possible restart or testing?

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