Nuclear power plants withstand Hurricane Irene

As Hurricane Irene made its way to the eastern seaboard of the United States over the weekend of August 27, multiple nuclear power plants made preparations to shut down if needed. By the time the storm made landfall it was reduced from a Category 2 hurricane to a Category 1 and no major problems were reported at nuclear plants due to the storm. As a precaution, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) dispatched additional personnel to monitor conditions at 10 nuclear plants from North Carolina to New Hampshire. On August 28, the hurricane was downgraded to a Tropical Storm.

North Carolina was the first state to feel the impact of the massive weather system. Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN) reported that the 1,875 MW Brunswick plant’s two units were operating during the storm, but that power was reduced to 65 percent.

Dominion’s (NYSE: D) 1,600 MW Surry plant in Virginia was operating at full power as of August 27 and Dominion did not expect the hurricane to affect the plant. The plant was designed to withstand winds of 360 MPH.

"The winds are not strong enough for us to change the plant's operations," spokesman Karl Neddenien told the Associated Press.

Dominion did begin reducing power at its two-unit 2,111 MW Millstone plant in Connecticut on August 27. The two-unit 1,950 MW North Anna plant was shut down following a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the east coast days earlier. Dominion said the plant would remain shut through the storm.

“Working with external parties, local emergency operation managers, to make sure we were all ready to be able to respond to whatever Irene brought,” said Rodney Blevins, vice president of distribution operations for Dominion Virginia Power and Dominion North Carolina Power.

Also on August 27, operators at Exelon Corp.’s (NYSE: EXC) 636 MW Oyster Creek nuclear power plant manually took the plant offline at 5 p.m. EDT.

“Although we cannot predict with certainty whether we will see those wind speeds on the plant site, based on current weather projections and because of Oyster Creek’s proximity to Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, it is prudent to safely shut down the plant in advance,” said Site Vice President Michael Massaro.

In Maryland, Unit 1 at the 1.750 MW Calvert Cliffs plant operated by Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (NYSE: CEG, CENG) automatically went off line late August 27 after a piece of aluminum siding hit the nuclear facility's main transformer. Constellation said the facility is safe and that the company declared an Unusual Event, the lowest of four emergency classifications by the NRC.

Calvert Cliffs 2 remained operating at full power.

As of late in the day on August 27, Entergy Corp. (NYSE: ETR) said the 2,069 MW Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan, New York was not affected by the hurricane and the plant remained open. The plant, 38 miles north of New York City, would begin shutting down if winds in excess of 100 mph are within 320 miles of the plant, said Entergy spokesperson Jerry Nappi. Along with Indian Point, Entergy’s 688 MW Pilgrim and 605 MW Vermont Yankee plants were operating at full power.

"Nuclear plants are built to exceed the most severe natural forces historically reported for their geographic area," John Herron, president and CEO of Entergy Nuclear.

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