NRC: Spent fuel pool cooling lost at NJ’s Oyster Creek nuclear plant during Hurricane Sandy

Published: November 2nd, 2012 at 12:50 pm ET
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Nuclear Regulatory Commission (h/t Anonymous tip):

On October 29, 2012, Oyster Creek declared a Notice of Unusual Event followed by an Alert due to high water levels in the intake structure. Elevated intake structure water levels are of concern as excessive levels can flood certain plant components and render normal cooling systems inoperable. No safety systems were adversely affected by the high intake level. The site also experienced a loss of offsite power. Both emergency diesel generators started as designed and supplied power to the emergency electrical busses. Shutdown cooling and spent fuel pool cooling were temporarily lost but subsequently restored, after the busses were reenergized. At 9:59 a.m. EDT on October 30, the licensee restored one line of off-site power via a start-up transformer. Oyster Creek terminated the Alert at 3:52 a.m. EDT on October 31 when water level dropped below 4.5 ft and off-site power was fully restored.

See also: Gundersen: I suspect we're going to see reports of spent fuel pools heating up at New Jersey nuclear plants -- The problem is reactors were in refueling mode (VIDEO)

Published: November 2nd, 2012 at 12:50 pm ET
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Related Posts

  1. Emergency Declared at NJ Nuclear Plant from Hurricane Sandy — Power lost, ocean water rising — Concern about cooling of reactor and spent fuel pool October 30, 2012
  2. NRC: Alert still in effect at NJ nuclear plant — High water levels in Oyster Creek’s water intake structure remain October 30, 2012
  3. Gundersen: 26 nuclear plants in area where Hurricane Sandy likely to hit — If power lost, only plan is to let spent fuel pools heat up… no generators to pump in water (AUDIO) October 28, 2012
  4. Gundersen on TV: Biggest problem I see is Oyster Creek plant near Jersey Shore — No way to cool spent fuel pool while power is out — All nuclear fuel is in pool, none in reactor (VIDEO) October 29, 2012
  5. Sandy “appears to have shifted” islands near NJ’s Oyster Creek nuclear plant — Surge smashed through homes close by — Feds begin special inspection at facility November 13, 2012

46 comments to NRC: Spent fuel pool cooling lost at NJ’s Oyster Creek nuclear plant during Hurricane Sandy

  • 16Penny 16Penny

    Sounds like a close call to me. Does anyone know what time the pumps lost power? That seems like a BIG detail to forget to report . That is what makes me suspicious of how close it may have been. I think now is a great time to start laying out a plan to decommission our most dangerous plants at the least. We know we have a 100 year supply of natural gas so you can switch over to charging us for that instead of producing this risky form of energy. I don't mind if the military still wants to use it for subs and satellites, I just think people are tired of the carelessness, cockiness even, in the industry. We also really don't like when officials blatantly lie when it is clear they knew otherwise.

    Congratulations New England and Europe! You and generations to come have dodged another bullet.


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    • jump-ball jump-ball

      Answering a letter from his mother while covering the Boer wars in 1899, Winston Churchill wrote back: "There is nothing as exhilarating as being shot at and missed", but such adventurous behavior by NPP designers and operators, endangering the lives of millions of others, is a corruption and a disgrace.


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    • moonshellblue moonshellblue

      Yes we got lucky this time but I really think they should consider decommissioning these ancient nuclear plants. All you have to do is look at radiation network and see how high the CPM are along the eastern seaboard. I wanted to move south but with the sinkhole debacle I think I'll just wait and see. We also got lucky here in PA but our neighbors and familiar seasides did not. It's so painful to see places which I once called home totally wiped off the map. Truly heartbreaking.


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    • guezilla

      The reports are VERY vague all the time. But like I pointed out before, yes, the length between the expected power outage and the emergency generators starting is the major question. Obviously it will take some minutes at minimum. In any case it could not possibly have been critical here – it would have been 25 hours to SFP boiling, at least double that to fuel being exposed enough to prevent working at the site. Plenty of time to fly in generators and break out the firehoses. So no story here, BUT I still want to know how long it took to restore power.

      What you should be more concerned about is the NRC status report line "This event caused a valid RPS actuation with automatic containment isolations that resulted in a temporary loss of shut-down cooling to the reactor." This is a major what-if, IF the reactor had been running, this would have been bad. As it is, if the shutdown is a normal refueling break, then up to 3/4ths of the hot core IS STILL THERE. It would still take some hours to melt, but that's certainly not something you want to hear.

      I still feel that Oyster Creek is red herring to keep people's attention away from Salem 1. I suspect Salem 1 will be admitted as "General Emergency" and INES level 2 once the media attention dies down. In reality it should be higher, but when hasn't the nuclear industry played them down? Here's the archetype pattern for Salem 1 style accident: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_Blayais_Nuclear_Power_Plant_flood


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      • Sirius

        Hey guezilla, I used to work in big datacenters, where we also had backup generators in case of power loss. In our case, as none of the production could go down at all, we had a huge UPS system with loads of batteries to operate the systems for the time needed by the generator to be in phase and connected to the grid. All of this is autmatic, no human intervention needed. I guess they use the same kind of protection as they also run critical computer systems.


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        • guezilla

          I've worked datacenters too, and know the general specs, hence the "couple of minutes". However, their report to NRC carefully avoids giving any timeframe, even "immediately" or "within minutes". Instead we get "subsequently" and "temporarily". Description of the loss of shut-down cooling which is far more time-critical even indicates this interruption wasn't because of the loss of outside power, but by separate SNAFU which could've taken just about any time to detect & correct.
          Only timeframe we have is that it took 8 hours from the power-cut for them to notify that everything was OK; it would be logical to assume the actual station black-out time was significant part of that, as they would have been eager to report everything okay at the earliest possible time. But again, for irradiated fuel pool even the maximum duration would still leave a safety factor of 3-6 before anything nasty would start to happen even if they didn't bring in fire-engines etc.


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      • Sirius

        In our case, the generator was in phase and connected within 2 minutes.


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      • voltscommissar

        Very vague! well can someone based in the US, maybe Arnie, please ring CONTACT: Gordon Hunegs (610) 337-5046 and demand clarification of the exact (KNOWN) times of the loss of offsite power, initiation of the scram time, and proof that the "busses" (3 phase HV interconnectors/switchgear) are truly capable of cooling the SFP, as implied. According to Mr Gundersen, the SFPs of _all_ US NPPs cannot be cooled by the diesel generators. Is this because they are not connected to the busses, or because the diesel generators would "die" if overloaded by the SFP cooling systems? At Oyster Creek the flooding of the river water intake structures also disables SFP cooling, no? What was the reactor pressure vessel peak temperature and pressure after scram, and before busses were re-energized? The NRC's PNO really does raise more questions than it answers…

        New Jersey is part of Reliability First Corporation's area. rfirst.org should have all outage reports listed as public information, so if "someone" in this post-9/11 era has a detailed map of where all the EHV lines run in NJ, we can work out the times and locations of transmission lines affecting Oyster Creek (maybe). Anyone got the map, and access to rfirst's reports?


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      • ForwardAssist ForwardAssist

        I concur that the attention is being placed on Oyster Creek to direct attention away from Salem.


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    • Weeping Lulu Weeping Lulu

      Amen! I admit, I didn't sleep that much this week I was to nervous and said many prayers for you guys there in the east coast and first countries franken monster harrassed for safety and recovery, glad to see the lord hears. I'm glad in a sense these nuke monster companies got a chance to be rocked on their heels a lil and brought a clearer message from the boss upstairs, that they need to clean up their homes now! To many eyes are on them and we will hold them accountable, last thing they would need is more people mad and many sent letters demanding some form of an answer. I'm glad that web pages like this, Radiation network and other countless exist to empower many people thru information that other's on the planet have no idea what's going on magnatude wise; until we read or dig to post eye openers. I tell you, I'm glad I live in a country where freedom is given, permitted, I don't have to make an excuse to have it or especially take it for granted!!


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  • 16Penny 16Penny

    So did I fire 5 or 6? Tell me, do you feel lucky punk? Well do ya?


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  • jec jec

    Did anyone at the nuclear plant..consider NO ONE in the track of the hurricane was able to KNOW there was a problem? No phones..no internet..around 7 MILLION people? So the concept of disaster notification..down the tubes. Someone needs to have the disaster plans redone..

    The idea is to WARN ..and frankly.the idea of shelter in place..would not work in a storm situation such as we had. Time to change out the plans??? YES..and the nuke plants..


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    • ForwardAssist ForwardAssist

      Government bureaucracies care about one thing, job security. Which means that their concerns run upwards toward Capital Hill, not down. It's 2012, our government spends trillions of our dollars turning this country into a police state with a marginalized Constitution. The Homeland Security establishment can track every aspect of your life including your cell phones without a warrant, in order to "provide a greater level of safety for the nation", but they can't send you a text message when a nuclear plant right next to you is a hair's breath away from a catastrophic event. They won't even require plant operators to send those simple text messages.

      Look at the EPA RadNet, it's a damn joke. The information is presented in an intentionally vague format, it's not real time data, and sites are very few in number. It's to the point that citizens are providing more reliable information.

      Governments and corporations have no 'king souls. But I bet that when the shit hits the fan the people in their circle, their coworkers, families, friends, and loved ones all get the information they need through "private channels".

      Information is money, power, control, and safety.


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  • Such a close call…what would have happened if the plant flooded and e had another Fukushima? New Jersey and New York are a mess as it is…a disaster averted this time, but…

    Sandy has created too many doom scenarios for Tokyo, which is much larger and denser in population. What would happen with a serious earthquake in the middle of winter? In the middle of a blizzard? I hope nothing like that happens, but what would the people of Tokyo do? Hoe many have a few weeks worth of food stored at home? How many still believe it can't happen to them, in spite of the radiation coming from Fukushima.


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  • dosdos dosdos

    Now what happens when a Cat 4 storms hits the same coast?

    The NRC has been negligent at over a dozen plants on the east coast.


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  • arclight arclight

    USA -Board Terminates Review of Calvert Cliffs Nuclear

    “I’m most concerned about the NRC’s practice of allowing unsafe reactors to operate. UCS’s Nuclear Power Information Tracker shows 47 reactors that NRC knows to violate fire protection regulations and 27 reactors with seismic protection known to be less than the seismic hazards they face. These pre-existing vulnerabilities mean that the American public is protected more by luck than by skill.”

    http://nuclear-news.net/2012/11/02/board-terminates-review-of-calvert-cliffs-3/


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  • TheBigPicture TheBigPicture

    Meltdowns happen by human error, mechanical error, quakes, floods, and a list of causes we haven't yet seen.

    Reality is, the list will grow. And the only way out is to end the use of nuclear reactors. They are dangerous beyond belief.


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    • Mack Mack

      And it's very concerning that so many supervisors of nuclear power plants are failing "fitness for duty" tests for alcohol or chemicals!

      Check out this list:

      http://enformable.com/?s=supervisor


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      • Cataclysmic Cataclysmic

        @Mack HOLY SHIT!!! On one hand I can understand the need to try to numb the mind, as you surely would have to "Know" too much, as an employee of a nuclear power plant, especially if you are the boss…

        But damn, on the other hand, these people are fucked up and at the helm of our nuclear power plants!

        Everyone should know! How safe can you feel knowing this.. thank you Lucas, once again, for making it impossible to ignore the obvious when laid out before you..thank you Mack for pointing the arrow.. Wow..

        Best argument link for pro-nukers.. the employees can't stomach going to work without some false courage due to being scared shitless because they know too much.


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      • WindorSolarPlease

        WOW Mack..that makes me feel more comfortable..NOT!!!

        Thanks for the link


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    • Radio VicFromOregon

      TBP, you never stray from your main message – end the madness now. Nuclear will not get safer. It will only get worse due to natural and manmade causes. There are better alternatives. You say it in a different way each time, and, clearly people hear you, like the bell ringer at the gates alerting the villagers to danger. Somewhere out in the world, the people who read these simple direct statements carry them easily within themselves and repeat the message to the next person.


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  • richard richard

    hey all.. i see at huff post the blogging has continued to follow this issue. the pro nukers keep arguing and will not give up (understandably).

    why don't some of you go chip in and hammer down the issue.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/30/superstorm-sandy-nuclear-power-plants_n_2042598.html


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  • AGreenRoad AGreenRoad

    Salem I New Jersey Nuclear Plant Loses Primary Plus Backup Cooling System; via A Green Road http://agreenroad.blogspot.com/2012/11/salem-i-new-jersey-nuclear-plant-loses.html


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  • jec jec

    WEll the http://www.radiationnetwork.com/ continues to show much higher readings..way over 50 CPM..from the Salam and Oyster Nuclear Plants..they are so close together. I hope the pro-nuke bloggers LIVE near those two..or three plants. Let them enjoy the "heat."


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  • harengus_acidophilus

    I'm not sure what to think…

    For the benefit of humankind on a greater timescale
    it's maybe the best if this will go on in fuku-style…

    NO – this is to sad to think about it.

    On the other hand – if predictions of a "carrington event" during the next year are true: this could lead to an end of nuclear energy production right now and will save billions of lifes.

    Any comments?

    h.


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  • Radio VicFromOregon

    h.a., you are one of my favored doomsayers. You say it plainly – if you're not WORRIED PEOPLE!!!, then you're hardly worth worrying about, damn it. Any comments? Which means, of course, you're very worried and wish everyone else was, too.


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    • harengus_acidophilus

      Yes, worried.
      In a rational way.

      With a great concern about emotional arguments,
      because in history fear was used to manipulate "the people".

      Sometimes I think: "It's to late, we're already behind 'the point of no return'" but I say to myself: "hope will never die".

      Do you think that's stupidity or fearmongering?

      h.

      h.


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      • or-well

        @harengus -
        I think it's neither.
        I have the same thoughts.
        It may be "too late" for some. I do think so.
        Is it "too late" for us all? I don't know.

        I think "hope" is a many-faceted gem
        that humans carry within
        its origin uncertain
        its endurance like diamond
        how and why finally dimmed
        a secret behind curtains.

        I am guilty of emotional positions.
        Its part of what I do here.
        I try not to argue. Others are better at it.
        Sharing well-founded concerns over the largest issues is important.
        They are fearful issues.
        That must be acknowledged.

        May we all have the courage to be fearful AND hopeful,
        if for no other reason than to be an example
        for those who would stop Humanity being trampled.


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  • irhologram

    I feel confused about what I just read compared to your responses. The timeline reported above would mean at least the possibilitiy of hours for the spent rods to be exposed…and the first release, as we knew from Fukishima is the most virilent, in that case, up to two weeks.

    So above it says: On October 29, 2012, Oyster Creek declared a Notice of Unusual Event. Then it says: At 9:59 a.m. EDT on October 30, the licensee restored one line of off-site power. Soooo, couldn't than mean anything from hours to a full day of beig off line?

    Then it says: Oyster Creek terminated the Alert at 3:52 a.m. EDT on October 31 when water level dropped below 4.5 ft and off-site power was fully restored. Sooo, does that mean Oyster Creek didn't have FULL power, until then…because, I'm reading that this is an off site power source, and the sentence shouldn't be interpreted to read, "at 3;52 a.m. we were back to normal" because it doesn't say that. It ways they got fully restored power on Oct. 31. The event started Oct. 29.

    Are you so sure we dogded the bullet? What were the readings there from the 29 to the 31? What are they now, too? Can someone explain to me why my math is fuzzy?


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    • guezilla

      The NRC report is probably about only thing we have to go by on this for now.

      * 1855 EDT on 10/29/2012 … water level in the station intake structure of greater than 4.5 feet. No other station impacts were reported at the time. (Given at 1918)

      What this means, at some past time, presumably when the building permits for the reactor were applied for, they specified "And if the water level rises above 4.5 feet, we will give notice and keep an eye on it so it won't creep up on us". At 1918 they "noticed" the water level was 0.3 feet over and had been for 23 minutes, so they gave the notice. They're also saying everything else was a-ok.

      * 2044 EDT … water level greater than 6.0 feet. The site also experienced a loss of offsite power event concurrent with the additional water level increase. Shutdown cooling and spent fuel pool cooling have been restored. (given 2141)

      So 2:14 later they notice the water level is 0.6 feet above the prior set "Alert" threshold and had been 57 minutes, and alert emergency personnel to the fact that were the reactor actually running, they might be needed to deal with a potential emergency. Of note, despite being on watch, it took almost a hour to give notice and give the alert.

      A significant vagueness follows, but we can tell that sometime between 1855 and 2141 they lost *outside* power. By 2141 both shutdown cooling (more critical) and irradiated fuel pool cooling ad been recovered. This gives a maximum possible station…


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    • guezilla

      …this gives a maximum station blackout length of 2:46, but the next notice they state power was lost and/or generators started at 2018 (sorry, wasn't thinking ahead and missed that part) we can almost certainly reduce the maximum window to 2018 – 2141 or 1:23. Again, they gave 25 hours as time before the irradiated fuel pool would start to boil, which is consistent with general estimates. Significantly more time (past 25 hours) would need to pass for enough water to boil off that radiation from irradiated fuel would require limiting work-time on-site.

      * at 2018 emergency generator auto-actuation due to loss of off-site power … caused automatic containment isolations that resulted in a temporary loss of shut-down cooling to the reactor Shutdown cooling was subsequently restored with power provided by the emergency diesel generators. (8-hour notification given 0414)

      Now here's the kicker. Independent of the initial loss of off-site power, some automatic protection system cut off shut-down cooling to the reactor. As previously stated, during a normal refueling outage only about 1/4th of the fuel will be removed, so the vast majority of it will still remain in the reactor core with much less total water volume than the SFP, depending on the time since shutdown core meltdown can result in hours. They didn't report this issue at 2141, so it's fairly likely the shutdown cooling was out somewhere from 1 to 8 hours.


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  • WindorSolarPlease

    When it comes to Nuclear Power, we are never safe.

    The regulations stink

    They are old

    They spew

    They create dangerous waste

    When things come up they can't control them

    They don't just cause tiny small disasters, they cause World Wide Disasters, because it travels through the jet stream.

    There are safer ways to create energy

    I bet our list of cons are longer than any pro list


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  • WindorSolarPlease

    I don't think a Nuclear Event followed by an Alert is a good sign.
    People down wind move out of the way, they are not alerting you to a party event.


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  • This one's weird–this is where the gas blowout was about 10 miles north of Oyster Creek. But the local gendarmes have gotten forceful about evacuation, declaring martial law. Are the barrier islands due east of the plant populated or parkland?

    http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/11/hurricane_sandy_continues_to_d.html


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  • irhologram

    Thank you Iaato. From your link: "Mary Jo Etheridge, 76, a Seaside Heights resident, said she was given about five minutes to pack a bag before she was put on a bus that took her west on Route 37 into Toms River. Her possessions were shoved into shopping bags."

    And from another story today: "Chris Harris, former licensed Senior Reactor Operator and engineer: [New Jersey's Oyster Creek nuclear plant] lost power and had to declare the alert, that’s a high one. The next two steps would be a site area emergency and then a general emergency, that’s a Fukushima event. So they had two to go.

    What that means is, it means you staff up your emergency centers. People had to be brought in during a hurricane to take command of the emergency centers.

    I just wanted you to realize what this means, people had to be put in harm’s way and in danger getting to a site, a facility where they could take command"

    How can it be possible that 14,000+ people are removed in 5 minutes from their homes? Where were they taken with their jewels and heirlooms in shopping bags? This wasn't "during" a hurricane. It is after, during reconstruction, which many of us have lived through quite well, overseeig our OWN CONTRIBUTIONS to that effort. So does that mean the area is severly contaminated? Contamination is not usually so high a priority…to wit, the LA sinkhole, methane bubbling wells and bogs… Where is Mary Jo Etheridge tonight?


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