Nuclear Plant Shuts Down Unit as Storm Hits CoastOne of the units at Indian Point was shut down around 10:45 p.m. Monday
Workers walk in front of a large square building that houses the nuclear reactor at the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey Township, N.J., on Feb. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
WASHINGTON (AP) - Part of a nuclear power plant was shut down while another plant - the oldest in the U.S. - was put on alert after waters from superstorm Sandy rose six feet above sea level.
Conditions were still safe all U.S. nuclear plants, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees plant safety.
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One of the units at Indian Point, a plant about 45 miles north of New York City, was shut down around 10:45 p.m. Monday because of external electrical grid issues, said Entergy Corp., which operates the plant. The company said there was no risk to employees or the public, and the plant was not at risk due to water levels from the Hudson River, which reached 9 feet 8 inches and was subsiding. Another unit at the plant was still operating at full power.
The oldest U.S. nuclear power plant, New Jersey's Oyster Creek, was already out of service for scheduled refueling. But high water levels at the facility, which sits along Barnegat Bay, prompted safety officials to declare an "unusual event" around 7 p.m. About two hours later, the situation was upgraded to an "alert," the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system.
A rising tide, the direction of the wind and the storm's surge combined to raise water levels in Oyster Creek's intake structure, the NRC said. The agency said that water levels are expected to recede within hours and that the plant, which went online in 1969 and is set to close in 2019, is watertight and capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds.
In other parts of the East Coast, nuclear plants were weathering the storm without incident.
Nuclear power plants are built to withstand hurricanes, airplane collisions and other major disasters, but safety procedures call for plants to be shut down when hurricane-force winds are present, or if water levels nearby exceed certain flood limits.
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Inspectors from the NRC, whose own headquarters and Northeast regional office were closed for the storm, were manning all plants around the clock. The agency dispatched extra inspectors or placed them on standby in five states, equipped with satellite phones.
"Our top concern is ensuring that the plants are in a safe condition, that they are following their severe weather procedures," said Diane Screnci of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Although nuclear plants are built for resilience, their operations get more complicated when only emergency personnel are on duty or if external electricity gets knocked out, as often happens during hurricanes.
"When external power is not available, you have to use standby generators," said Sudarshan Loyalka, who teaches nuclear engineering at University of Missouri. "You just don't want to rely on backup power."
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