WASHINGTON, D.C.—Nuclear energy facilities are prepared to safely withstand high winds and heavy rain as the eastern United States braces for Hurricane Irene to make landfall this weekend.
Nuclear power plants are the most robust facilities in the U.S. infrastructure, with reactor containment structures composed of steel-reinforced concrete that have proven their ability to withstand extreme natural events. In addition, nuclear plant operators are trained and tested one out of every six weeks to safely manage extreme events such as hurricanes. Plant operators also have multi-day staffing plans to ensure that personnel are on-site and prepared to respond to situations that may arise as a result of the storm.
When hurricanes occur, electric utilities operating nuclear energy facilities take specific actions mandated by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines and the plants’ emergency preparedness plan. These include:
Plant personnel monitor storm conditions, paying close attention to the path of a storm and wind speeds at the site.
Personnel inspect the entire facility and secure or move any equipment that could possibly become airborne due to high winds.
Each plant site has numerous emergency backup diesel generators that are tested and ready to provide electricity for critical operations in the event of a loss of off-site electricity supply. Diesel fuel tanks are checked and topped off to ensure there is a minimum of seven days of fuel to power backup generators.
As a precaution, a reactor will be shut down at least two hours before the onset of hurricane-force winds at the site, typically between 70 and 75 miles per hour.
Twelve hours before Hurricane Irene approaches nuclear energy facilities on the East Coast, plant operates at each site will provide status updates to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
If there is a loss of off-site power, reactors automatically shut down as a precaution and the emergency backup diesel generators begin operating to provide electrical power to plant safety systems. Plant operators also may manually shut down the reactor as a precaution even if off-site power is still available.
Nuclear energy facilities are designed to withstand natural occurrences greater than those encountered in the regions where they are located. They are built to withstand floods, earthquakes and high winds, and have numerous safety systems that will operate and safely shut the reactor down in the event of a loss of off-site power. These plant designs are routinely reviewed and modifications are made to assure their integrity and safety.