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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.

7 responses to “NRC — Ready for the 2015 Hurricane Season UPDATED

  1. Pamela79 June 12, 2015 at 11:21 am

    We can never fully prepare for mother nature, but taking all possible necessary steps is our responsibility. Great job!

  2. CaptD June 11, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    Remember: Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7 despite what inspection personnel do!

    • Dan Williamson June 15, 2015 at 6:39 am

      Still handing out that bumper sticker, huh? That’s right up there with Split Wood, Not Atoms!

  3. NukePuke June 11, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Glad to hear there was no major damage to Brunswick Units #1 & #2. Your article does not mention whether or not the units were shutdown as a precaution or just specifically what actions were taken by the plant owners and the NRC there. Of course I am most concerned about the 31 nuclear power plants (including the Brunswick units) operating in the US with suspect Mark I or II containment structures. You know the same containment structures that did not contain much of anything during the nuclear nightmare in Japan. Has the NRC in any way stepped up its inspection efforts at these facilities since the Fukushima accident?

    • Half-TruthSlayer June 13, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      Also read that there were significant amounts of rainfall when Ana passed. Was there any water intrusion as a result at Brunswick? As you are aware at Indian Point near NYC there was a water intrusion event just as a result of the activation of a fire suppression system on a main transformer located outside the buildings there. That occurred despite a “thorough” walk-down of “all” flood barriers at that plant just 2 years earlier. Just what damage, although not “major”, did occur at Brunswick?

    • Moderator June 19, 2015 at 8:58 am

      The Brunswick units were not required to shut down and continued to operate during Tropical Storm Ana in May. There was no water intrusion or damage to plant equipment from the storm.

      The NRC has taken and continues to take a number of actions to address lessons learned from the 2011 nuclear accident in Japan. More information on those actions can be found at http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/ops-experience/japan-dashboard/priorities.html .

      Roger Hannah

      • NukePuke June 19, 2015 at 11:58 am

        Thank you for the additional information Mr. Hannah.
        I am glad there were no untoward adverse effects on Brunswick from Tropical Storm Ana. It also tells me that even with a half-foot of rain or so the Brunswick units had no water intrusion that would threaten reactor safety as was the case at Indian Point recently. Glad nature’s “leak check” of Brunswick passed with flying colors!

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