Update: Sandy is currently 575 miles from NYC. Storm surge warnings for Long Island Sound and NYC harbor. Sandy should start hitting NY & NJ by Sunday night US time with the center making landfall by Monday night. Minor storm surge flooding is expected as far away as Maine. Cape Hatteras NC is already reporting sustained winds of 49 mph and gusts of 62 mph. We will have more updates tonight as Sandy makes landfall.
Hurricane Sandy has been projected to hit the US east coast. Meterologists now have a more specific zone for landfall. A number of aging US nuclear plants sit facing the ocean or in areas near the coast that can be impacted by the hurricane and storm surge. The current “track center” for the landfall path is central New Jersey pointing Sandy in a path that would hit Oyster Creek nuclear station. Oyster Creek is one of the oldest US nuclear plants and is the same design as Fukushima unit 1. The NRC has stated that they consider Sandy to be a risk even to inland nuclear plants and will have them close down two hours before 60 mph or higher sustained winds are expected.
Oyster Creek is currently shut down for refueling. Flooding is likely to be a problem for NJ and NYC, a full moon with higher high tides plus stronger winds on the north side of Sandy will be pushing water in the NY harbor and coastal areas. Schools in New Jersey are already planning to be closed Monday and the NYC subways close tonight at 7pm in anticipation of the incoming storm. Winds in Maine are expected to be 60-70 mph and they are outside of the landfall zone. Sandy could impact places inland as far as Chicago. Weather.com is predicting that Lake Michigan could have 20-25 ft waves coming in straight toward Chicago from east to west. This is highly unusual for US weather to travel east to west for any extended distance.
Weather.com is giving a flying debris warning for Boston to Buffalo, NY indicating they may get the brunt of the winds. Meteorologists are considering Sandy to be a very dangerous storm even though it has a low hurricane classification. The storm is huge and will impact a wide area of the heavily populated east coast. Compounding the problem is that Sandy is sucking in a winter storm that moved in from the west and also cold northerly winds from Canada. This could mean over a foot of rain, possibly 2 feet of snow in the Appalachian Mountains and the heavy storm surges that come with a storm this size. The storm surge could be as high as 8 feet compounded with the heavy rains.
It is also predicted that the the snow mix in this storm could increase the chance for power outages. Since nuclear plants rely on access to outside power from the grid to safely operate this increases the problems for reactor operators. If they lose grid power they then rely on diesel generators. If they run out of diesel, have tanks damaged, or an emergency generator fails they have 4-8 hours of back up battery as a last line of defense. As we found out at Fukushima this battery power does not operate many of the critical safety systems like emergency valves.
The other risk with heavy surges and flooding is damage to water intake systems and pumps. These provide the cooling water for the reactors and if knocked out, puts the reactor into an immediate emergency state. This happened at not just Fukushima Daiichi, but also Daini and a number of other reactors on Japan’s pacific coast during the 3-11 disaster.
As of the current NRC reactor status report the following units are at reduced power or offline, Millstone has one unit offline, Salem unit 1 is 83%, Salem unit 2 offline, Seabrook unit 1 offline, Oyster Creek offline, all others at 100% power.
Coastal plants include:
Seabrook – PWR one unit
Millstone – (inits 2 & 3 PWR) Unit 1 decommissioned Fukushima clone
Indian pt. (units 2 & 3, unit 1 decommissioned) – PWR
Oyster Creek – Fukushima clone
Salem (units 1 & 2) – PWR
Calvert Cliffs (units 1 & 2) – PWR
Surrey (units 1 & 2) – PWR
Pilgrim – Fukushima clone
Inland plants include:
Peach Bottom – units 2 & 3 – Fukushima clone, unit 1 decommissioned
Limerick – units 1 & 2 both Fukushima clone
North Anna (units 1 & 2) PWR
Three Mile Island unit 2 PWR decommissioned, unit 1 PWR
We will be following Sandy’s progression and the status at the reactor sites involved. Check back here for periodic updates.
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