US nuclear plants weather superstorm
By RAY HENRY
THE Associated Press | October 31,2012
ATLANTA — Superstorm Sandy forced three nuclear reactors to close by playing havoc with cooling water and electrical lines, but the nuclear industry took the pounding without suffering a major problem.
Nuclear plants are supposed to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, even a direct hit from a hijacked jetliner. But an earthquake and tsunami that caused multiple meltdowns last year at a nuclear plant in Japan has raised public scrutiny on how they perform during natural disasters.
Storm-related complications were blamed this week for forcing three nuclear reactors offline — Nine Mile Point Unit 1 northwest of Syracuse, N.Y., Indian Point Unit 3 about 25 miles north of New York City and the Salem plant’s Unit 1 on the Delaware River in New Jersey.
Meanwhile, rising waters along the Barnegat Bay prompted officials to declare an “alert,” the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system, at Oyster Creek in New Jersey. That plant had earlier been taken out of service for a scheduled refueling, meaning it was not producing power.
Regulators and plant operators said none of the problems compromised safety.
“Hurricane Sandy once again demonstrates the robust construction of nuclear energy facilities, which are built to withstand extreme flooding and hurricane-force winds that are beyond that historically reported for each area,” said Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group.
Some of the problems Monday were not unusual for the industry during large storms. When bad weather topples electrical lines and damages equipment, nuclear plants can be forced onto backup power to run critical systems or even shut down.
For example, Nine Mile Point’s Unit 1 reactor shut down automatically around 9 p.m. Monday when an electrical fault occurred on power lines used to send electricity from the plant to the power grid, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. While that fault was probably caused by the storm, it was still under investigation Tuesday afternoon.
The second reactor at the site lost an incoming power line, which prompted a backup generator to start as a precaution. The second reactor was continuing to produce electricity. The facility serves about one million customers.