By: ASSOCIATED PRESS |
The nation’s oldest nuclear power plant, already out of service for scheduled refueling, was put on alert late Monday after waters from superstorm Sandy rose 6 feet above sea level.
Conditions were still safe at and around Oyster Creek, a plant in Lacey Township, N.J., and at all other U.S. nuclear plants, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees plant safety. No plants that had been up and running before the storm were planning to shut down.
High water levels at the plant in Southern New Jersey, which generates enough electricity to power 600,000 homes a year, 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.
The plant’s owner, Eelon Corp., said power was also disrupted in the station’s switchyard, but backup diesel generators were providing stable power, with more than two weeks of fuel on hand.
A rising tide, the direction of the wind and the storm’s surge combined to raise water levels in the plant’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.
The heightened status at Oyster Creek aside, most nuclear plants in the Sandy’s path were weathering the storm without incident.
Inspectors from the NRC, whose own headquarters and Northeast regional office was 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 to ensure uninterrupted contact.
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 at the site or if water levels nearby exceed certain flood limits.
At the Salem and Hope Creek plants in Hancocks Bridge, N.J., which together produce enough power for about 3 million homes per day, officials were watching for sustained winds of 74 mph or greater that would trigger taking the plants offline. The nearby Delaware River posed another hazard if water levels exceed 99.5 feet, compared with a normal level of 89 feet.
Joe Delmar, a spokesman for Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., said only essential employees had been asked to report to work but that current projections were that the plants would not have to close. One of the units at Salem had already been offline due to regular refueling and maintenance.