NRC centre activated ahead of hurricane

11 October 2018

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) yesterday activated its Atlanta regional incident response centre in anticipation of Hurricane Michael's landfall in the south-eastern USA. Southern Nuclear reduced power at the Farley nuclear power plant in Alabama as a precautionary measure.

NRC Region II staff in the Atlanta response centre (Image: NRC)

Southern Company subsidiary Southern Nuclear, which operates the two-unit Joseph M Farley plant on behalf of owner Alabama Power, announced yesterday it was reducing power for both units as a "precautionary safety measure" to prepare for potential "weather-related conditions" caused by the hurricane. "These proactive steps will allow station personnel to continue monitoring the storm's progress and take any necessary actions," the company said.

The NRC said staff at the Atlanta centre were monitoring and maintaining close contact with the Farley site, which was not expected to shut down as hurricane-force winds were not expected at the site.

The Atlanta centre is one of four regional response centres and covers the regulator's Region II: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and West Virginia. Other regional centres are based in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas. The Atlanta centre activated last month in advance of Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in North Carolina on 16 September.

Michael made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane at around 2:00pm EDT yesterday, near Mexico Beach, Florida, moving north-northeast with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (249 kilometres per hour). The storm system began to weaken as it moved over land. By 8:00am EDT today, the centre of the storm was moving over South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour, according to the US National Hurricane Center.

Nuclear plant operators prepare in the days before a storm by ensuring that all loose debris and equipment is removed or secured, and conducting walk-down inspections of important systems and equipment. Emergency equipment, such as generators and pumps, are checked to ensure full operability. US regulations require nuclear power plants to shut down if a storm is forecast to strike the plant with sustained winds of greater than 73 miles per hour, because of the potential loss of off-site power.

"Safety and preparedness are in the nuclear industry's DNA," the US Nuclear Energy Institute said. "Nuclear power plants are the most robust facilities in the US infrastructure with reactor containment structures composed of steel-reinforced concrete. They have proven their ability to withstand hurricanes and provide electricity to homes and businesses as soon as off-site power is restored and the electricity grid can accommodate the power," it added.

Two units at Duke Energy's Brunswick nuclear power plant were taken offline on 13 September ahead of Hurricane Florence. Both units had restarted by 21 September.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News