Hurricane Sandy: Extra inspectors dispatched to nuclear reactors


Extra federal inspectors were dispatched to US nuclear-power plants in the path of Hurricane Sandy as operators and officials reassured the public that they are prepared for high winds and flooding associated with the storm.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it sent additional inspectors to 11 reactors from Maryland to Connecticut, and issued the employees satellite telephones. Procedures require that the nuclear facilities be shut before winds are forecast to exceed hurricane force, the commission said today in a statement.

"All plants have flood protection above the predicted storm surge, and key components and systems are housed in watertight buildings capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds and flooding," according to the commission statement Monday.

Plants in the path of the storm include Entergy's Indian Point in New York and Constellation Energy Nuclear Group's Calvert Cliffs in Maryland. Constellation Energy Nuclear Group is a joint venture of Exelon of Chicago and Electricite de France based in Paris.

Plants face risks including the loss of outside power and the inability to keep cool spent fuel stored at the facilities, although operators had adequate time to make preparations, Chris Paine, the nuclear program director at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview.

"Right now I don't see this as a kind of storm that poses enormous threat to nuclear plants," Paine said. "They had plenty of warning, days in this case, to prepare."

Given the threat of loss of power, "it would be more responsible if NRC and plant operators would shut the plants down in advance," Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a Takoma Park, Maryland., group that seeks to end nuclear power and nuclear weapons, said in an interview.

It takes longer to cool down the radioactive core at a plant operating at full power, he said.

"In terms of reactors, you had better hope those diesel generators work adequately," Kamps said.

Hurricane Sandy, the biggest Atlantic storm, was forecast to make landfall in the Mid-Atlantic region Monday. The storm, 900 miles across, shut the federal government in Washington and state offices from Virginia to Massachusetts. It halted travel, prevented U.S. stock markets from opening and upended the presidential campaign.