Nuclear power plants prepare for expected hurricane

Hurricane Irene continued to make its way toward the East Coast of the United States at press time on August 25 and was expected to make landfall over the weekend. As the storm approached, nuclear power plants in the expected path have begun preparations.

Hurricane Irene is expected to make landfall just days after Dominion Power’s (NYSE: D) two pressurized water reactors at the 1,800 MW North Anna plant in Virginia shut down automatically following a 5.8 earthquake. Dominion Virginia Power spokesperson David Botkins said that with an in-house team of meteorologists that study weather models, it allows Dominion to have a long lead time for preparations.

“Models change hourly and models change daily so there is a lot of fine tuning and sophistication that goes into it right up to impact,” he said. “

Dominion’s meteorologists work with logistical experts to plan and begin pre-deployment exercises to respond as quickly and safely as possible.

“We just went through a very rigorous exercise in June to get ready for this very thing,” said Botkins.

A spokesperson at Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN) said the company’s plan calls for preparations to occur beginning about 120 hours before the storm’s anticipated landfall. As of the morning of August 25, a number of nuclear power plants appeared to be within the storm’s projected path: Brunswick, Harris, Indian Point, Oyster Creek, Pilgrim, Millstone, Surry, Seabrook, Vermont Yankee, Limerick, Calvert Cliffs, Peach Bottom, Three Mile Island, Susquehanna and Salem. Of those, the plants further inland and to the north would likely see less impact, according to weather models from the Weather Channel.

Progress Energy owns and operates two plants in North Carolina within the projected path of the storm: the single unit, 900 MW Harris nuclear plant and the two-unit, 1,875 MW Brunswick nuclear power plant near Southport.

“One of the realities of having as much coastal service area as we have is the annual threat of major storms,” said Progress spokesperson Mike Hughes in an email to Power Engineering magazine.  “That said, we practice and refine the comprehensive storm plan with each drill and each real event.”

The Brunswick plant is the only nuclear plant in their fleet that may see hurricane-force winds. But based on the current forecast, Hughes said, Progress does not expect hurricane-force winds at the plant.

Hughes said that if hurricane-force winds are expected at Brunswick, operators would bring the plant to shutdown two hours before the expected arrival of the hurricane winds.

Brunswick is designed for water levels 22 feet above sea level. Its flood protection is based on what Hughes called “the most severe storm tides at the site associated with probable maximum hurricane winds” up to 128 MPH.

After dealing in 2005 with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Entergy (NYSE: ETR) is familiar with the damage that hurricanes can leave behind. After Katrina, 37,000 square miles, roughly one third of Entergy’s service territory, was affected. The Mississippi-based utility is again making preparations for Irene to pass near its Indian Point Energy Center in New York. The two-unit 2,069 MW nuclear power plant sits on the east bank of the Hudson River 38 miles north of New York City and is projected to be affected by the storm as it is weakening. Entergy spokesperson Jerry Nappi said plant personnel are monitoring the storm track and potential for hurricane and high winds.

“If winds in excess of 100 mph approach 320 nautical miles from the plant, operators take action to begin shutting the plant down prior to the 100 mph winds reaching the site,” he said.

Progress has mutual assistance pacts with other utilities across the Southeastern Electric Exchange and had informed them of the possibility of needing additional resources. Progress also has the ability to deploy crews from unaffected areas, if needed, and has teams ready to travel from South Carolina and central North Carolina regions. Dominion is also able to move resources across jurisdictional boundaries, as needed, into the area that could be most affected by Hurricane Irene.

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