October 30, 2012

US Nuclear Plants Issue "Alerts" Following Sandy Storm Surge

Last summer we speculated about what might happen if the winds and/or storm surge from Hurricane Irene happened to hit the Brunswick nuclear plant in North Carolina head on. As luck would have it Irene weakened and veered to the north, but did she did go on to cause the shut down of the Oyster Creek nuclear reactor in New Jersey, amongst numerous other problems.

Now Oyster Creek is in the news again, thanks to "Super Storm" Sandy.  Exelon Corporation, the operators of the Oyster Creek plant, announced on October 22nd that:

Operators at Oyster Creek Generating Station removed the generator from service at midnight today to begin a planned refueling outage. During the outage, Exelon employees and supplemental workers will perform maintenance activities and replace nearly one-third of the reactor’s fuel to keep the unit running safely and reliably for a two-year operating cycle.

On October 29th Exelon issued another press release, stating that:

Exelon Generation’s three nuclear power stations in Pennsylvania are well prepared for Hurricane Sandy as it moves up the Eastern Seaboard.

Operators at Peach Bottom Atomic Power StationLimerick Generating Station and Three Mile Island completed a host of pre-storm inspections this weekend and remain fully staffed to monitor and respond to changing conditions.

All Exelon nuclear stations are robust and fortified facilities, capable of withstanding the most severe weather, including hurricanes and floods.  Extra precautions have been taken at each Pennsylvania facility, including increased staffing, pre-staging of emergency equipment, activating back-up communications, and securing outside equipment and materials.

In another press release the same day Exelon said much the same sort of things about Oyster Creek, just up the coast in New Jersey:

Oyster Creek Generating Station is well prepared for Hurricane Sandy as it heads north along the Eastern Seaboard.

The reactor is shut down for a refueling outage. A storm response team is taking precautions this weekend to protect the plant and its workers.

Oyster Creek is a robust and fortified facility, capable of withstanding the most severe weather. When the storm was identified, station workers implemented procedures to assure that safety systems are operational and that all outside equipment, materials and other items are properly secured.

A team of highly trained and qualified plant personnel will closely monitor the storm and take actions to address challenges if they arise.

Although there is as yet no press release about it on the Exelon web site, it seems as though some challenges have arisen. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (or NRC for short) declared an alert for Oyster Creek later yesterday evening, which states that:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is continuing to monitor impacts from Hurricane Sandy on nuclear power plants in the Northeastern United States, including an Alert declared at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey. The plant, currently in a regularly scheduled outage, declared the Alert at approximately 8:45 p.m. EDT due to water exceeding certain high water level criteria in the plant’s water intake structure.
An Alert is the second lowest of four NRC action levels.

The Alert was preceded by an Unusual Event, declared at approximately 7 p.m. EDT when the water level first reached a minimum high water level criteria. Water level is rising in the intake structure due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. It is anticipated water levels will begin to abate within the next several hours. As of 9 p.m. EDT Monday, no plants had to shut down as a result of the storm.

Strangely none of these official communications remark on the fact that  Oyster Creek is the proud possessor of a GE Mark I containment vessel of the same type used at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

Adding to the woes of the now over 7 million households without electricity in the North Eastern United States, it seems as if other nuclear reactor operators have also been "addressing challenges" that have reduced supplies of electricity in the region. In the Oyster Creek alert the NRC mentioned that:

The NRC has inspectors providing around the clock coverage at all of the plants that could experience effects of the storm. These include: Oyster Creek, in Lacey Township, N.J.; Salem and Hope Creek, in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.; Calvert Cliffs, in Lusby, Md.; Limerick, in Limerick Township, Pa.; Peach Bottom, in Delta, Pa.; Three Mile Island, in Middletown, Pa.; Susquehanna, in Salem Township, Pa.; Indian Point, in Buchanan, N.Y.; and Millstone, in Waterford, Conn. Those inspectors will independently verify that operators are following relevant procedures to ensure plant safety before, during and after the storm.

As a result of the "inspectors providing around the clock coverage" and/or the "highly trained and qualified plant personnel" PSE&G announced earlier this morning that:

PSEG Nuclear manually shutdown Salem Unit 1 at 1:09 a.m. this morning per plant operating procedures when four of the station’s six circulating water pumps were no longer available due to weather impacts from Hurricane Sandy. The circulating water pumps use Delaware Bay/River water to condense steam on the non-nuclear side of the plant.

Entergy's Indian Point 3 reactor has also had some problems. According to the NRC's list of reportable events:

On October 29, 2012, at 2241EDT, the Reactor Protection System automatically actuated at 100% reactor power due to a direct electrical trip to the Unit 3 Main Turbine Generator. The generator trip resulted in a turbine/reactor trip. All control rods fully inserted on the reactor trip. All plant equipment responded normally to the unit trip.

In addition the Exelon reactor at Limerick has been reduced to 91 percent power, and Constellation Energy's Nine Mile Point 1 nuclear reactor in New York state has also been shut down. According to the NRC's list of events once again:

On October 29, 2012 at 2100 EDT, Nine Mile Point Unit 1 experienced an automatic reactor scram due to a generator load reject. The cause of the load reject is currently under investigation. Nine Mile Point Unit 1 is currently in Hot Shutdown, with reactor water level and pressure maintained within normal bands.  Both Emergency Diesel Generators are operable and in standby. The unit is currently implementing post scram recovery procedures.

Please note that:

Constellation joined the Exelon family of companies in 2012

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Comments on US Nuclear Plants Issue "Alerts" Following Sandy Storm Surge »

October 31, 2012

Jim Jim @ 12:02 pm

The NRC issued a press release yesterday evening which states (amongst other things) that:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is beginning to return to normal inspection coverage for nuclear power plants in the Northeastern United States in the path of Hurricane Sandy. Heightened coverage will continue at Oyster Creek, a plant in Lacey Township, N.J., still in an “Alert” due to high water levels in its water intake structure.

In addition to the event at Oyster Creek, three reactors experienced trips, or shutdowns, during the storm. They were Indian Point 3, in Buchanan, N.Y.; Salem Unit 1, in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.; and Nine Mile Point 1, in Scriba, N.Y. All safety systems responded as designed.

Meanwhile, three plants – Millstone 3, in Connecticut, Vermont Yankee, in Vermont, and Limerick, in Pennsylvania, – reduced power in advance of or in response to the storm.

Our power outage "straw poll" reveals that at least 5 million households are still without electricity.

Jim Jim @ 5:39 pm

Exelon have issued a press release stating (amongst other things) that:

Oyster Creek Generating Station exited “Alert” status at 4 a.m. EDT today after water levels at the plant’s intake structure returned to normal and offsite power was restored. The Alert was terminated and normal operations resumed less than 36 hours after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the New Jersey coast with historic rains and surge tides.

November 13, 2012

Jim Jim @ 4:47 pm

The NRC issued a press release earlier today, in which they stated that:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has initiated a Special Inspection at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in response to issues that arose when Hurricane Sandy impacted the facility on Oct. 29 and 30.

The team of three NRC inspectors is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the company’s event declaration activities related to water level increases at the plant’s water intake structure during the storm. The Special Inspection will expand on reviews conducted during and after the storm by the NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to Oyster Creek.

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