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NRC Geared Up for Potent Winter Wallop

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

What a difference a month makes. As of late December, many East Coast residents were savoring record warmth and a winter which, until that point at least, had been largely devoid of a certain four-letter word (snow), as well as ice.

Fueled by a potent El Nino – a warming of Pacific Ocean waters that occurs every several years – the season was marked more by bustling golf courses and joggers wearing shorts than an abundance of the white stuff.

But now a sizable storm that has piggy-backed on the jet stream is taking aim at the East and promises to deliver what could be a significant winter wallop accompanied by large snow accumulations and strong winds in many areas. As is always the case, the NRC is ready to keep a close watch on nuclear power plants that potentially could be impacted by the storm.

Plant personnel have checklists of specific tasks to be performed when a significant storm – no matter whether a blizzard or a hurricane – is approaching.

For instance, there will be “walkdowns,” or surveys, of plant grounds to ensure there are no objects or debris that could get whipped into the air by strong winds and cause damage to any structures, power lines or the switchyard.

Another activity is to check that tanks that supply fuel to emergency diesel generators are filled. If the flow of power from the grid to the plant is disrupted for any reason, these generators will activate and provide power to key safety systems until the normal electricity alignment can be restored.

There needs to be sufficient fuel on hand in case the generators are needed for any extended period of time.

Also, plant operators must prepare for the possibility of flooding. One way to do this is to follow each site’s procedures, which can involve checking that flood-protection doors are properly secured, putting sandbags in place, stationing portable pumps or other actions.

NRC Resident Inspectors will be monitoring the completion of these activities using their own inspection procedure while also tracking the storm’s track and expected conditions at each site.

All indications are that this storm – dubbed Jonas by the Weather Channel – is one to take seriously. The NRC is prepared to do just that.

For information on how NRC HQ prepares, see this post.

25 responses to “NRC Geared Up for Potent Winter Wallop

  1. Debby Stark February 4, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    “…that currently provides 60% of our clean energy…” They must be making a huge amount of money! Maybe it’s time nuclear power plants pay for their own insurance and stop relying on taxpayer subsidies for everything from the roads that haul the fuel to the plants, to the water sucked out of the rivers and poured back in hot and radioactive, and the pretty much non-existent waste storage facilities. Yeah, too cheap to meter…

  2. stock January 24, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Somewhat off topic, but some very accurate citizen scientists have been reviewing west coast ocean bottom subduction, earthquake at volcanic formations, and a possible 9.0 earthquake on the west coast.

    Do you guys have this on your radar, and what actions are being taken to mitigate effects on nuclear plants, or spent fuel storage. A 9.0 could knock power out for months, any spent fuel pools would be at grave risk, that would pretty much toast the whole country.

    mahalo!

    • Moderator January 25, 2016 at 9:12 am

      The NRC sets strict requirements for safe spent fuel storage. Developed through a public process, they provide a sound technical basis for protecting public health and safety and the environment. Spent fuel pools and dry cask storage canisters are robust structures designed to be able to withstand the effects of the most powerful earthquakes predicted in the vicinity of any operating reactor. All nuclear power plants are equipped with emergency diesel generators capable of supplying power to safety-related systems. And, as a result of the Fukushima accident in 2011, the industry has established two centers – in Phoenix, Arizona, and Memphis, Tennessee – where additional emergency response equipment is stored which can be rapidly dispatched to a nuclear plant in the event of need.

      Victor Dricks

      • stock January 25, 2016 at 11:02 am

        Aloha, and thanks Victor, can you expand on resources available at these quick deployment center, do they have full time standby helicopters and pilots on call, and is there a runway also? What size of generators do they stock, and what is the biggest generator that can be rapidly deployed.

        How many different types of cabling, breakers, subpanels, etc are needed to ensure that they can quickly tie into the plants emergency circuits.

        Also, in a grid down for months, civil chaos, possibly highways blocks and fuel distribution system non functional, can you ensure that there wouldn’t be a problem at a nuke plant. I don’t think this “stress test” would pass with flying colors, but flying Xenon.

        TY

  3. Anonymous January 23, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Is there any Tech. Spec/LCO associated with severe weather /Blizzard event (as in Tornado speed winds) that might require a plant so shut down?

  4. A. Steen January 22, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    You stated “Another activity is to check that tanks that supply fuel to emergency diesel generators are filled.” By saying that you give the anti-nuclear advocates that read this column the impression that it is the only time the level in the storage tanks are checked. I operated a nuclear plant for 30 plus years and those tank levels are checked at least twice a day, every day, rain or shine. They are always filled.

  5. CaptD January 22, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    Fukushima proved that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor (including its Spent Fuel Pool), any place anytime 24/7 despite what the NRC does, it just has not happened yet.

    This is the real lesson to be learnt from Fukushima.

    What we really need is a law that says that if a nuclear accident occurs anywhere in the USA, all nuclear power plants must be immediately decommissioned; that way the NRC and especially the nuclear Utilities would be “forced” to make sure that no accidents occurred because it would hit them in their bottom line, not to mention saving taxpayers billions in damages.

  6. stock January 22, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    What actions have been taken for those primary substations / transformers shorting out during storms?

    • NRC January 22, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      One action taken is to ensure any debris that could become airborne during a storm and result in switchyard electrical shorts are addressed prior to the arrival of severe weather. Another is close monitoring of equipment performance during the storm. Transformer failures generally do not occur as a result of storms.

      Neil Sheehan
      Region I Public Affairs Officer

      • stock January 25, 2016 at 11:05 am

        Neil, in light of the events that transpired during the storm, can you re-comment on the need for per-inspections on switch yards including transformers and connections.

  7. stock January 22, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Does the NRC provide or require inspectors to have a 4 wheel drive vehicle? Are there facilities for inspectors to stay overnight and eat at the plant?

    • NRC January 22, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      The NRC does not require inspectors to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle. If needed, the agency may call upon local emergency responders to assist with getting an inspector to a site, but that is rare. A more likely scenario is that a Resident Inspector would remain at the site for the duration of a severe storm. Each storm has unique characteristics and therefore the NRC performs assessments of staffing needs prior to and during the event.

      Neil Sheehan
      Region I Public Affairs Officer

    • David Andersen January 22, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      Meaning no disrespect to the resident inspectors, but they are only there to observe. The plant personnel are professional and are well trained to deal with severe weather.

      • stock January 22, 2016 at 7:32 pm

        Uh David, if they cannot get to the job, they cannot do their job. I thought the context was obvious enough to not further explain the question.

  8. Nancy Allen January 22, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    How many plants could be affected ? Which ones?

    • NRC January 22, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      The NRC is closely monitoring potential impacts on multiple sites. In Region I, which covers the Northeastern U.S., there may be significant snow accumulations at plants in central and eastern Pennsylvania while winds and high tides could affect plants in Maryland, New Jersey and possibly other states. Given the blizzard conditions expected, the agency will remain in close communication with plant operators to evaluate the conditions present at their respective facilities.

      Neil Sheehan
      Region I Public Affairs Officer

  9. Nikohl Vandel January 22, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Thank you for doing all that you can before the storm … even though most of those plants should be decommissioned so we never need to worry about this stuff anymore. #safetyfirst

    • Jim Bowlby January 24, 2016 at 6:11 pm

      What a great idea! Let’s shutdown the one source that currently provides 60% of our clean energy 24/7 and replace it with let me guess…windmills and solar panels because this is free energy and the wind always blows and the sun always shines. And next we can get rid of those nasty fossil plants that burn coal, oil and gas and contribute to global warming and kill people with their emissions. Those old hydro dams that we built back during the Great Depression need to be decommissioned before they fall apart and hurt someone. Once they are gone the rivers can be restored to their natural beauty and the salmon can run free. We can all heat our homes with wood because wood smoke is natural and wood is a renewable energy source. Let’s outlaw the combustible engine and make sure that everyone drives electric cars. We can charge them up at home with our very own windmills and solar panels for free.
      Now the only thing we’ll have to worry about is if the lights will come on when we flip the switch.

      • stock January 25, 2016 at 10:52 am

        Sir, respectfully, it is hard to say with a straight face that nuclear is “clean”. Just ask the monkeys in Japan that just last week had their feces measured at 150,000 Bq/kG, vast majority Cesium with the 137/134 ratio clearly indicating Fukushima origins.

        Also, all nuclear plants emit radiation as a normal part of their operations, some are so dirty they are hundreds of times higher in leakage than others.

        The salmon population has been pretty much wiped out via Fukushima and its radiation and mutated planktons and viruses that are working over the whole Pacific right now. So we can pretty much write them off already. Sorry, but in the balance between wildlife and human life, I think that we need as much hydro as we can do.

        I do like heating my home with wood, its extremely renewable, and the newly planted trees are a great way to use up the good supply of plant food in the air, we call that CO2. That said, the opposite side of your argument can only imply that you would recommend heating with electricity, which only makes sense in the mildest of climates, although a case can be made for heat pumps in moderate climates. But making that electricity with nuclear, where each plant produces about the equivalent radiation of 3 nuclear bombs, PER DAY, makes little sense compared to solar PV which has come of age, has beat grid parity almost everywhere and once purchased, your “rate per kWH” stays the same for it’s 30 to 40 year life. Whereas in the classic utility model, the rates go up at 3% to 6% per year, except in place like Vogtle with a nuke plant costing $18 Billion, and the cost of project financing they need to extract $65 Billion from the ratepayers over time to have the project “make sense”, that will double or triple their rates almost immediately,.

        The combustion engine will certainly not be outlawed, and will likely fade away, but never go away, as EV’s make further market penetration via technology and cost/economies of scale. EV’s are also an important part of a primarily solar PV fed grid since these EV’s that are plugged in 94% of the time, can solve a calculated 58% of all of the “storage” needs that PV will require and they can solve that problem with nothing more than a smart charger. And by the way, you can take my 275 HP 1966 Mustang right about the same time you come and take my guns, it ain’t gonna happen.

        So yes we can charge up our own EVs with electricity we make on our own roofs, and this highly distributed generation will make America stronger and more robust, and less subject to terror attack.

        Finally, I was disappointed that at the end you choose to play one of the stalest lies of the nuclear generations, which simply stated is: If you don’t have nuclear you are going to be in the cold and dark (you can throw also ‘dirty hippies’ if you like also). Sorry, we ain’t buying it and we collectively are not that dumb to build another dysfunctional system, my own PV system actually allows me to use MORE electricity, it is after all a valuable product that enhances human life. Solar PV lets you maximize those benefits.

      • Nikohl Vandel January 26, 2016 at 11:24 am

        And, always have a candle handy. For me, the toxic waste not being recycled is the biggest threat to anything we think of when thinking nuclear. Who’s gonna recycle it?

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