Update: As the Blizzard Moves Out of the Mid-Atlantic

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

UPDATE: As an update to the downpower and then shutdown of Calvert Cliffs Unit 1, the plant has restarted and once again began sending power to the electrical grid as of about 1:30 a.m. today (Jan. 26). The plant was returned to service after the main transformer cable that had become disconnected, apparently as a result of blizzard-driven winds, was fixed. That issue led to the plant reduction in power during the storm. Repairs were also made to address condenser tube leakage that was identified and led to a decision to shut down the plant on Monday morning. NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to the plant tracked the repair work and the unit’s restart.

As of Sunday afternoon, only one nuclear power plant in Region I may have been directly impacted by the blizzard. (Region I covers the Northeastern U.S.)

Power output at Calvert Cliffs Unit 1, in southern Maryland, was reduced to just under 15 percent on Saturday evening after an electrical cable associated with a main transformer was found to be disconnected. It was not immediately clear if the storm was responsible for the cable coming loose. The downpower was needed to facilitate repairs.

While upstate New York was expected to be spared much of the intensity of the winter storm, the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant was shut down by its operators at about 10:40 p.m. Saturday after icing impacted the facility’s flow of cooling water drawn from Lake Ontario. Power had already been reduced to about 50 percent at the Scriba, N.Y., plant due to lowering water intake levels at the time of the manual scram (shutdown).

The plant was safely shut down and the NRC’s Senior Resident Inspector for FitzPatrick traveled to the site to independently verify plant conditions and observe operator actions. The single-unit boiling-water reactor remained out of service as of this morning as troubleshooting and follow-up activities continued.

After the Pilgrim nuclear power plant experienced several winter storm-related shutdowns in recent years, the plant’s owner, Entergy, was prepared to conduct a pre-emptive shutdown of the facility should certain severe weather conditions occur. The NRC has been closely monitoring any effects of the blizzard on the Plymouth, Mass., site and has confirmed that there have been no significant impacts at the facility and certainly none that would have triggered the pre-emptive shutdown criteria.

On a similar note, the NRC has kept close tabs on the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, in Lacey Township, N.J. During Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012, water levels on the canal from which the plant draws cooling water reached levels that caused the declaration of an “Unusual Event” – the lowest level of emergency classification used by the NRC – and later an “Alert” – the next rung up on the emergency classification ladder. The water levels did not reach those levels during this storm and therefore no emergency declarations were necessary.

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.