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How do nuclear power plants withstand hurricanes?

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According to a study from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), nuclear sites for the production of energy are designed to withstand hurricanes, and they carry a long history of successes.

With the contention structures of the steel-enforced concrete reactor, energy producing nuclear sites are the most solid of all of the United State's sites. Nuclear power point operators, additionally, are trained every six weeks on how to safely handle external phenomena such as hurricanes, and there is regular co-ordination with local, state and federal authorities to prepare for emergencies.

Preparation before a hurricane

The days before a hurricane hits the Earth, nuclear power plant operators take the necessary measures, according the guidelines presented by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and onsite plans for emergency preparations. These include:

  • Site staff shall survey storm conditions, giving special attention to storm trajecotries and wind speeds onsite.
  • Site staff shall inspect the entire site and move or secure any equipment that could be dragged by the strong winds. They shall also check doors and secure water feeds.
  • Each site has numerous emergency diesel generators that have been tested and made ready to provide electricity for critical operations if the electric energy of the grid is lost. As part of the inspection before the storm, the diesel fuel tanks are checked to ensure there is at least seven days' supply of fuel to feed the generators.
  • As a precaution measure, the reactor shall be shut down at least two hours before the hurricane's strong winds arrive at the location. Generally this happens when the speed reaches between 70 and 75 mph (between 113 and 121 km/h).
  • Starting 12 hours before a hurricane reaches a nuclear power plant, operators shall begin to send regularly updated reports on the site's conditions to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Should there be energy loss outside the site during or after a hurricane, the reactors will be automatically shut off as a preemptive measure, and emergency diesel generators will inmediately start to operate, in order to supply electric energy to the site's safety systems. Operators can also manually shut off the reactor as a preemptive measure even if there was no exterior energy loss,

Examples of US nuclear sites that have safely resited hurricanes in the past years

  • 2011, Hurricane Irene (category 3): 24 nuclear reactors in 15 sites located between North Carolina and New England safely resisted.
  • 2005, Hurricane Katrina (category 5): Unit 3 of the Waterford nuclear power plant in Louisiana was shut off after the electricity supply was lost due to the hurricane. All emergency equipment functioned according to plan and operated the emergency diesel generators for 4.5 days,
  • 2004, Hurricane Jeanne (category 3): The operator of the St.Lucie nuclear power plant in Florid shut off its two units after the hurricane caused an exterior loss of energy supply.
  • 1992, Hurricane Andrew (category 5): The operator of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in South Florida shut off units 3 and 4 after the hurricane cut off exterior electric energy supply. The emergency diesel generators were used for six days.

For more information on this study: Interactive Graphic: Nuclear Plants Withstand Nature’s Fury

For more information on the categories of hurricanes and their potential damages: National Weather Service. National Hurricane Center

 

 

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International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES)

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