NRC: U.S. nuclear plants must be able to withstand flood conditions

Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan, New York.
Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan, New York. | Courtesy of Shutterstock

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the operators of nuclear power plants are carefully watching America’s heartland following heavy rains and flooding, as well as the Northeast urban corridor from Washington, D.C. to New York City, which just got walloped by Winter Storm Jonas.

U.S. nuclear power plants -- most of which are in these regions -- face several potential flooding sources and must be prepared, the NRC said.

For instance, a storm surge, which is an increase in water levels greater than that normally associated with tides, typically occurs when a storm’s winds push ocean water onshore, which is what happened during Jonas along New Jersey's shore, threatening the Oyster Creek and Salem nuclear power plants.

Flooding that is expected to persist in the Midwest and South from the Mississippi and Missouri rivers likewise could impact parts of Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana – all states that have operating nuclear power plants.

But despite Mother Nature’s recent onslaughts, everything is fine, Scott Burnell, an NRC public affairs officer, said.

“The short answer is that every U.S. plant has been designed and built to safely withstand severe flooding at their sites at any time,” Burnell told Power News Wire.

Specifically, all nuclear power plants must demonstrate the ability to withstand extreme flooding and shut down safely if necessary as a condition of their operating licenses. These requirements have been updated and strengthened following the Fukushima plant disaster in Japan in 2011, Burnell said.

“Every U.S. nuclear power plant has been working on NRC-requested flooding re-evaluations for several years now, following our work on learning lessons from the Fukushima accident,” Burnell said.

For instance, each nuclear power plant threatened by flooding from the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers has emergency diesel generators that can supply backup power for key safety systems if off-site power is lost.

“And all plants have robust designs with redundancy in key components housed in buildings with watertight doors,” Victor Dricks, NRC’s senior public affairs officer for Region IV, said in a recent blog.

In addition to watertight doors, other plant-protection options include both temporary and permanent pumps, site drainage, sandbags and/or inflatable berms, permanent flood walls and plant elevation, Burnell said.

The NRC also receives periodic updates from the National Weather Service on conditions that might affect any region’s nuclear plants, as well as from NRC resident inspectors who live in the communities near the plants where they work.

These inspectors independently verify that precautionary flooding procedures taken by plant operators, for example, are being properly implemented, Dricks said.

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U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

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