U.S. NRC Blog

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El Nino and NRC Preparedness

F. Paul Peduzzi
Branch Chief
Division of Preparedness and Response

elninoEl Niño is already making itself felt along the West Coast. This phenomenon occurs every two to seven years. It warms sea surface temperatures in the eastern-central Pacific Ocean, shifting average sea level pressure and tropical rainfall in dramatic fashion, and leading to weather pattern changes over parts of the northern and southern hemispheres.

Forecasters expect this year’s El Niño to be one of the strongest ever, based on changes in the sea surface temperatures of the Pacific.

No two El Niño’s are exactly alike, but the pattern generally has these effects:

  • Increased rain and snow across California and the southern United States, with less in the Pacific Northwest and in the Ohio and Tennessee valleys
  • Milder than normal winter across the northern United States
  • More hurricanes than normal in the eastern Pacific and fewer in the Atlantic during hurricane season (June 1 – November 30)

The NRC is alert to potential impacts on our licensees. Facilities such as nuclear power plants are designed to withstand much more severe weather than El Niño typically brings. Nuclear power plants are designed and built to withstand the most severe weather and floods historically reported for their area. Several plants experienced strong El Niño weather patterns in the ‘80s and ‘90s with no major problems.

Following the Fukushima events in Japan in 2011, the plants have enhanced their ability to deal with major floods. For example, additional portable safety equipment, such as pumps and generators, is now available both onsite and offsite.

However, El Niño’s storms could block roadways, making it difficult for plant staff to get to the site and impeding public evacuation routes. Plant operators can use other transportation means to get staff and equipment to the site, if needed. And emergency plans have provisions to clear evacuation routes or use alternate routes. These provisions have been tested before, such as during the Missouri River flooding of 2011

The bottom line? California may be unusually soggy this winter, but the NRC does not expect the current El Niño to cause any safety issues for the nation’s nuclear power plants. As always, we remain vigilant and continue to work with other federal agencies on emergency preparedness and incident response, just in case.

18 responses to “El Nino and NRC Preparedness

  1. drbillcorcoran February 9, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    • Embarrassment of Oversight

    An inescapable fact is that when an oversight agency has been embarrassed by the revelation of outrageous incompetence, lack of integrity, noncompliance, and/or lack of transparency by one overseen entity all similar overseen entities are punished in some way by the same and similar oversight agencies .

  2. Janet Azarovitz February 9, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    The arrogance and the spouting of so many untruths exhibited by the NRC is mind blowing. The lessons learned and supposed implementation of extra safeguards is almost laughable. Evidenced by the installation of an untested Rube Goldberg device, generators in ground level sheds with keys to the bobcat to get them in place many yards away, any one with any sense shakes their head in disbelief that this agency is mandated to keep us safe.

    • Engineer-Poet February 9, 2016 at 5:13 pm

      Care to list a few, with specific cites showing how the NRC is wrong?

      • janet azarovitz February 10, 2016 at 11:01 am

        The list is so long for one plant in particular, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station which is less than 30 miles from where I live on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. A place that is in many respects an island, connected to the mainland by two bridges which would be closed to residents and visitors,( numbering over 400,000 in the summer) in order that those living within an arbitrarily designated epz are able to evacuate in the event of an accident at Pilgrim…….identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi.
        The history of events at this 43 year old reactor plant goes back to the earliest years of its operation so I will mention the more recent ones that has placed it at the lowest level of safe operation in the U.S. based on numerous forced shutdowns and equipment failures, and is a category just one step above mandatory shutdown by federal regulators. By changing the rules, the NRC, mandated to keep us safe, has allowed the Entergy corporation to profit through years of flashovers in the switchyard occurring because of its vulnerable location caused by salt deposits as well as icing during the severe storm with windpacked snow during blizzard conditions. The Fukushima catastrophe happened because of a loss of offsite power and Pilgrim losing power has been proven to be just as vulnerable. To continue, the fact is that there is leaking tritium and though Pilgrim sits on top of the aquifer it still operates, PNPS has an overloaded spent fuel pool because it’s cheaper than putting in safer dry cask storage, a 24/7 firewatch in control room ordered because of inattention and disregard of a 1992 federal advisory , a two year long malfunctioning of meteorological towers on reactor site, a “Rube Goldberg” design to address a beyond design flooding which could disable the plant cooling systems, proven climate change conditions which raised the waters from Cape Cod Bay that are used to cool the reactor and necessitated shut down (Entergy now looking to raise the EPA temperature baseline to counter known patterns that are happening with climate change thereby continuance of operation), pump failure leading to lowering water levels, operation of the plant for 19 years without Clean Water Act permit. The list goes on and should include the environmental damage that has killed millions of fish and larval forms of life.
        Time and again, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station has been given repeated chances by the NRC to bring the plant up to levels of safe operation. It has failed to do so. Citizens are aware of this and in 2013 all 15 towns on Cape Cod voted to support a ballot question that called on Governor Patrick to call upon the NRC to shut Pilgrim down. Along with thousands of residents through environmental and grass roots organizations asking that this be done, the plant is still in operation and now, only because it is no longer considered as profitably viable, the corporation says it will be shut down by 2019. It should have been decommissioned at the end of it’s planned existence back in 2012. The NRC worked hand in hand with the corporation, so it is still limping along and producing money for their coffers.

        There is data to support all the above at PilgrimCoalition.org and the CapeCodBayWatch.org

      • Engineer-Poet February 10, 2016 at 8:09 pm

        [The NRC] has allowed the Entergy corporation to profit through years of flashovers in the switchyard occurring because of its vulnerable location caused by salt deposits as well as icing during the severe storm with windpacked snow during blizzard conditions.

        I’m not getting your objection here.  This is something that affects the switchyard.  Any plant on that site would have the same things happening.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with the nuclear section.  Why the fear?

        The Fukushima catastrophe happened because of a loss of offsite power and Pilgrim losing power has been proven to be just as vulnerable.

        Not quite.  Fukushima had a total station blackout that lasted HOURS before any damage occurred.  How long does it take to clear a salt-induced flashover short at Pilgrim?  I’m thinking, worse comes to worst, the interruptors are opened and someone goes out with a water or hot glycol spray like they use to de-ice airliners and washes the insulators down, and the outside power is back up in half an hour.

        Pilgrim is not in an area subject to tsunamis, and its diesel generators are more than capable of keeping the reactor cool until outside power returns.

        To continue, the fact is that there is leaking tritium and though Pilgrim sits on top of the aquifer it still operates

        I actually dug through that a couple days ago.  The number quoted is “8 million pCi/liter”, which sounds so much bigger than “8 micro-curies per liter” which it’s equivalent to.  (A picocurie is about 2.2 disintegrations per minute.  Your body contains about 120,000 picocuries of potassium-40 alone; you literally cannot live without potassium.)

        So.  8 μCi/liter of tritium.  Do you know how much tritium is in a typical radioluminescent “EXIT” sign?  About 25 curies; that is 25 MILLION micro-curies.  One sign contains as much tritium as a volume of “highly radioactive” leak-water ten meters square by 30 meters high.

        You probably go past such radioactive signs all the time, in businesses and such.  Why aren’t you afraid of them?  Because they’re “approved”?

        PNPS has an overloaded spent fuel pool because it’s cheaper than putting in safer dry cask storage

        So on the one hand you say that the NRC isn’t competent to rule that the spent-fuel pool loading is safe, but on the other hand you say the NRC’s word on the safety of Pilgrim and its ranking among US plants is unquestionable (not to mention its approval of radioactive EXIT signs).  Well, which is it?  Is the NRC incompetent or the ultimate authority?

        Is there ANYTHING you say that doesn’t boil down to “nukes bad!”?

        If you dig into these things you come to the conclusion that all of the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) is completely unjustified.  It has been whipped up by a decades-long propaganda campaign.  I don’t know whether you’re a knowing part of it or just a dupe, but regardless, you’re a perfect parrot for the interests behind it.

      • Janet Azarovitz February 11, 2016 at 12:21 pm

        I’m sorry to say, Engineer-Poet, that YOU have been misinformed and I will not try to further enlighten you beyond the FACTS that I gave you when you asked for specifics. I would suggest that you might look at the websites I suggested and to which I might add: the Union of Concerned Scientists, Fairewinds, Jones River Watership Association, Association to Preserve Cape Cod, Sierra Club, Pilgrim Watch, NIRS, among many others.

      • Engineer-Poet February 11, 2016 at 4:54 pm

        I’m sorry to say, Engineer-Poet, that YOU have been misinformed

        Yet when I bring up specifics with references, you can’t tell me how you’re right and I’m wrong.

        I will not try to further enlighten you

        I’ll just hammer on you with facts, then.  It’s not very hard and it’s fun.

        beyond the FACTS that I gave you when you asked for specifics.

        Your claims of fact turned out not to support the FUD you’re pushing, either because they aren’t facts or they don’t mean what you imply they mean.

        I would suggest that you might look at the websites I suggested and to which I might add: the Union of Concerned Scientists, Fairewinds, Jones River Watership Association, Association to Preserve Cape Cod, Sierra Club, Pilgrim Watch, NIRS

        Sierra Club is an interesting case.  Did you know that it was originally formed to stop hydro projects from flooding pristine wild landscapes, and its motto was “Atoms Not Dams”?  It also originally supported ZPG, to protect nature from human encroachment.  Somehow, both of those positions have been reversed!  There was a fight for control of the board, environmentalists against a group which didn’t want to alienate the SC’s big donors.  One donor, David Gelbaum, is known to have said that if the SC ever opposes immigration it will not see another cent from him.  Does that sound like a principled environmentalist position?  Do you think that the SC’s reversal on nuclear power isn’t also bought and paid for?

        The rest of them are just propaganda organizations.
        UCS:  formed out of the Vietnam war protest movement.  Its founders weren’t bright enough to distinguish between nuclear weapons (designed to go boom) and nuclear reactors (designed to be impossible to go boom) and is infamous for using cherry-picked sections of papers.
        Fairewinds:  an anti-nuclear propaganda organization run by Arnie Gundersen, whose “reactor operator license” is for a research reactor at RPI with an output power of 100 watts.  He makes claims without evidence and stands by them even when they are proven false, such as his assertion that the Unit 4 fuel pool at Fukushima went dry (it never got close).
        Jones River Watership Association:  no expertise in technical matters.  Its homepage says it was formed to protect against water diversions from the watershed, which has nothing to do with Pilgrim or any other nuclear plant.  Under “Projects -> Ecology” it lists “Climate Change” and “Unplug Pilgrim”, which are totally contradictory—nuclear energy generates 63% of the carbon-free electric power in the USA, and every lost reactor adds directly to the emissions of greenhouse gases.  None of the staff or boards of directors appear to have any technical expertise.  Under “Friends and Allies” is listed “WindSun Institute”, a private organization.  Now, who would be interested in badmouthing nuclear power in order to sell their own product, especially by driving up retail prices to make themselves more competitive?
        Pilgrim Watch and NIRS:  the first is obvious, and NIRS explicitly states it is for a nuclear-free planet; no pretense of even-handedness for either one.

        I wouldn’t buy a used car from any of those people or organizations, let alone allow them to dictate my energy policy.  The people who want to shut down 63% of the USA’s carbon-free electricity, and make it effectively impossible to fully de-carbonize energy (natural gas is the “bridge fuel” with no end to the bridge), are tools of the fossil fuel industry.  Fossil fuel interests are the only ones who benefit from their activities.

        Anyone taking their information from such sources is a tool of the money people behind them.  I hope for your sake you’re getting paid for your “work” here; I’m not.

      • Engineer-Poet February 11, 2016 at 7:21 pm

        By the way, the natural background level of tritium measured in Vienna in 1966 appears to be about 60 pCi/liter (I’ll let you do your own unit conversions).  You could take all the “contaminated” groundwater at Pilgrim and just dump it into the ocean, and nobody would be able to tell the difference.

  3. CaptD February 9, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Fukushima reminds us that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7.

    It is just a matter of how and when, that is what the NRC refuses to accept, which is exactly the same mistake the Japanese made, thinking that they could “out engineer” Nature.

    • Engineer-Poet February 9, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Nature didn’t destroy Fukushima Dai’ichi (a series of bad decisions about the height of the construction site, height of seawall, and siting of diesel generators and their fuel did), and both Fukushima Dai’ini and Onagawa came through similar or worse beatings without making the news.

      Meanwhile, paranoia like yours got Germany to shut down a whole heap of nuclear plants (someone’s afraid of tsunamis on the Danube, I guess) and made the country safe for lignite.  Nice going there.

  4. drbillcorcoran February 9, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    What was necessary after Fukushima was necessary before Fukushima.

    How come it took Fukushima to prompt the post-Fukushima upgrades at other plants worldwide?

    What were the harmful conditions, behaviors, actions, and inactions that resulted in its taking Fukushima to prompt the post-Fukushima upgrades at other plants worldwide?

    • CaptD February 9, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      Drbillcorcoran – Good Comment.

      The Root Cause is Corp. Greed and even though almost all, if not all, expenses related to operating a nuclear power plant are borne by ratepayers, the Utilities that operate them fight every safety related expense as unnecessary!

      If the USA passed a Law requiring the Decommissioning of all nuclear reactors is any of them had a nuclear accident, then we would see the Nuclear Industry get interested in Safety fast. Until that happens or there is a BAD accident, the industry will continue to give lip service to Safety while squeezing as much profit out of their reactors as possible, because they are in business to make MONEY.

    • Moderator February 9, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      The NRC’s 2011 senior manager task force reviewing the information from Fukushima (http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1118/ML111861807.pdf ) concluded that U.S. reactors were safe for continued operation. The NRC’s efforts since Fukushima have enhanced U.S. reactor safety measures above that acceptable level.

      Scott Burnell

      • drbillcorcoran February 9, 2016 at 3:50 pm

        Scott,

        I was really hoping for answers.

        My questions were:

        How come it took Fukushima to prompt the post-Fukushima upgrades at other plants worldwide?

        What were the harmful conditions, behaviors, actions, and inactions that resulted in its taking Fukushima to prompt the post-Fukushima upgrades at other plants worldwide?

      • drbillcorcoran February 10, 2016 at 5:42 am

        The non-answer is a nonresponsive reply to a question. A non-answer can take the form of “I already told you the answer”, the form of an answer to a different question, or the form of an evasion.

        A non-answer is slick and sleazy. It turns the stomach. A non-answer is like the tarpaulin over the pick-up truck cargo bed on the way to the landfill; it covers everything required by law and conceals the trash and filth.

        Non-answers are a form of bullying. They make use of a position of power to stiff-arm the concerned questioner. They exploit asymmetric relationships.

        Non-answers are a form of intellectual corruption. They impede honest dialogue. They are dismissively disrespectful of due process. Historically, non-answers have been used by intellectually corrupt regimes to create a chilling effect on honest dissent.

        Once an organization perceives that it has used the non-answer to avoid admitting prior incompetence, lack of integrity, noncompliance, and/or lack of transparency, a precedent has been set. The non-answer becomes an accepted way of life, a part of the intellectually corrupt culture that pervades the agency. When management accepts non-answers to stakeholders it provides a convenient way to evade accountability.

        Once the agency accepts non-answers to its critics it begins to accept non-answers from those it oversees. What were the roles of non-answers in agency embarrassing shortfalls such as the Callaway Xenon Shutdown, the Peach Bottom Sleeping Guards and the Davis-Besse 2002 Imprudent Extension?

        Non-answers erode public confidence in the fundamental technologies. By not expressing outrage at non-answers to stakeholders the industries are driving nails into their own coffins.

      • Dan Williamson February 10, 2016 at 7:21 am

        Don’t bother, Mr. Burnell. Those aren’t “questions.” They’re vague, open-ended rhetorical grenades lobbed in from the grandstands. You could write a novella in response to each, and they would be dismissed out-of-hand over some perceived lack of specificity and forthrightness. Resist the call to fall on your sword.

    • Dan Williamson February 9, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      “thoughtful inquiry”?

      If the designers / builders of Fukushima Daiichi had taken the prudent engineering expedient of putting their emergency electrical supplies in hardened, flood-proof buildings…..like all US plants are designed…..we would never have heard of the place. Daiichi and her neighboring units rode out a record-breaking earthquake just fine. It was an extended station blackout that was their undoing. So, to address an egregious design error in Japan, we now have US plants in the middle of the desert ramping up for tsunamis, and plants with no active geologic faults within hundreds of miles hunkered down waiting on Mr. Richter to strike. All to the tune of a conservatively-estimated $4 billion bill to the US consumer.

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