Sandy’s One-Year Anniversary Serves as A Reminder

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of one of the worst coastal storms in U.S. history. Hurricane Sandy made landfall just north of Atlantic City and left billions of dollars in damages in its wake. A year later, impacted areas of New Jersey and New York are continuing efforts to recover from the pounding the storm delivered.

The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy serves as a reminder of the devastation the storm brought to neighborhoods along the Atlantic Coast.
The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy serves as a reminder of the devastation the storm brought to neighborhoods along the Atlantic Coast.

The NRC focused on the safety of nuclear power plants in the storm’s path as Sandy bore down on the region, dispatching additional inspectors to augment the resident inspectors at some of the potentially affected sites to provide for 24-hour coverage. In addition, the agency shifted to an elevated response mode that involved the activation of the Incident Response Centers in our Region I and II offices, and the Operations Center at our Headquarters office.

Throughout the event, the NRC also worked closely with state, county and federal partners, including FEMA.

As the storm struck, the plant closest to the eye of the hurricane, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, was shut down at the time but nonetheless had to cope with flooding conditions at its water intake structure and a temporary loss of off-site power. Three other reactors, meanwhile, either shut down or were knocked out of service by the storm’s effects.

At no time was the safety of these plants or others in the Northeast compromised, reflecting the high level of training for their operators, the hardened nature of the structures at the sites and preparations leading up to the storm’s arrival.

Still, there are always lessons to be learned from such events. For many nuclear power plants, the storm has led to a fresh evaluation of severe weather guidelines. These guidelines cover such areas as when a plant needs to begin powering down when wind speeds associated with a severe storm begin to impact a facility.

As for the NRC, we continue to assess the ability of plants to withstand severe flooding as part of our post-Fukushima reviews. Each plant is required to complete a flooding hazard re-evaluation to confirm the appropriateness of the hazards assumed for the site and the ability to protect against them.

Plant owners are required to use updated methods and information, with the results determining whether any additional regulatory actions are needed. More information on the NRC’s post-Fukushima reviews is available on the agency’s website.

Thus far, 2013 has seen low levels of hurricane activity, but Sandy will stand as a powerful reminder of the need for vigilance when it comes to storm preparations.

Tracking the Source: Pilgrim’s Tritium Link

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer, Region I
 

pilgIt may not be as daunting as searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but the process of trying to track down the source of tritium contamination at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant has been long and painstaking.

Since mid-2010, efforts have been under way to determine why certain groundwater monitoring wells at the Plymouth, Mass., site have detected very low levels of tritium, a naturally occurring radioactive form of hydrogen that is also a byproduct of nuclear power plant electricity production.

While tritium emits a weak form of radiation, does not travel very far in air and cannot penetrate the skin, the release of the radioactive material via an uncontrolled pathway is unacceptable to the NRC.

There is still more checking to be done, but now there is a possibility a 4-inch underground pipe might be the culprit.

The NRC, from the time the contamination was identified, has continued to press the plant’s owner, Entergy, to hunt for the point of origin so that further leakage could be prevented. Work done to find the source included extensive visual inspections of tanks, and piping and dye tests to track groundwater flows at the facility.

Until recently, those efforts did not bear fruit.

However, water leakage into the reactor building that occurred in mid-April helped plant personnel focus on the pipe in question. This pipe is used infrequently during any given year, to allow for the discharge of water containing small amounts of radioactivity, which limited the opportunities to detect this break. Still, this pipe was due to be checked as part of a voluntary nuclear industry initiative to inspect underground pipes and tanks that has been under way for several years and that all plants have undertaken.

The NRC will independently verify whether the pipe is, in fact, to blame for the contamination. In the meantime, the pipe has been removed from service to prevent any additional leakage. An NRC inspection of the plant’s implementation of the voluntary industry initiative is scheduled for September.

It’s important to note that the tritium contamination has remained on-site. Since the groundwater there is not used for drinking-water purposes, there is believed to be no risk to plant employees or the public as a result of the contamination.

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