Friday, August 26, 2011

Here Comes Irene

ireneThe east coast hasn’t had an easy time of it lately, has it? While the earthquake earlier this week caused no casualties and little property damage, the same likely cannot be said of the approaching hurricane Irene – if it maintains its present course and intensity. After all, things that haven’t happened might indeed not happen.

Back in the early 80s, Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson told everyone to go home around noontime one December day over fears of imminent snowfall. No snowfall that day or that season.

Jackson was made fun of back then for that decision – Chicken Little, Boy who Cried Wolf, you know, that kind of thing – but he was right. Conditions said snow, Atlanta cannot move (well, could not then move) when there is any snow, and abandoned cars clog up the thoroughfares, hampering cleanup.

So it’s more than right to prepare for Irene. Nuclear energy plants have roosted along the east coast since there have been such facilities and hurricanes have roared around them every time one gets a mind to move their way. Waterford weathered Katrina and Turkey Point Andrew. Big industrial structures of all kinds are designed to withstand hurricanes and nuclear facilities are no exception.

And, of course, there’s at least one big difference between an earthquake and a hurricane, at least in this country. You can always see the latter coming and chart its probable course. So you get to prepare.

Clearly, a storm like Hurricane Irene has the potential to interrupt service. High winds might cause trees to brush up against power lines, and lightning could strike and damage trees or pole-top equipment. There also is the potential for trees to be uprooted given the recent heavy rains.

That’s from PSE&G and that’s about infrastructure. A nuclear energy facility will shut down it it loses external power, but a more likely scenario is that you will lose external power. Prepare accordingly and no hoarding the milk.

Okay, that’s a little too glib. Take a look over here (at FEMA) to read about hurricane preparation and what to do during and after a hurricane. Lots of good links here, too, if you want to learn more about hurricanes. But really – no hoarding the milk.

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We took a look around to see how various utilities with nuclear facilities told their customers about the upcoming storm. In sum, there’s a peek-in at the nuclear facilities here and there, but the overall message is “stay safe” – and advice on how to do so.

Here’s Constellation:

While it is too early to predict the impacts of the storm, a CENG Fleet structure team has been activated to ensure necessary support to any of our locations impacted by the storm. Our facilities at Calvert Cliffs, R.E. Ginna and Nine Mile Point have emergency safety procedures in place, which include early and extensive preparation for storms. We practice the plan routinely. We also have back-up systems in place to safely operate the facility.

That’s a good summary of what facilities do – some things as dictated by NRC regulation, with additional safety measures specific to the plants themselves.

Here’s Progress Energy:

“It’s been a while since our service area has experienced a major hurricane, so we encourage customers to take advantage of this time to prepare their own storm plans,” said Howard Fowler, Progress Energy Carolinas’ storm coordinator. “Preparation is important. Having a plan in place and knowing what to do when bad weather approaches is critical to ensuring the safety of families and property.”

Nothing specific about nuclear energy – and that’s okay. Most companies focus on things like being ready to repair downed power lines. That’s how PSE&G handled it above, too.

Same for Dominion. It’s advice for what to do after such a storm is very good.

  • Listen to your local radio station on your car or battery-powered radio for regular news and weather updates. Don't rely on your neighbors to report your outage.
  • Stay away from fallen wires, flooded areas and debris. Treat all fallen wires and anything touching them as though they are energized.
  • Follow safe operating procedures for generators. Never operate one inside your home or in an enclosed space, such as a garage.
  • Do not connect portable generators directly to the electrical system of your home. Electricity could flow backward onto  power lines and endanger lives. Either have a qualified electrician perform the work or plug appliances directly into the generator using the proper-sized extension cords.
  • Exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide and can be deadly, so run your generator outside with proper ventilation. Store the fuel for your generator safely.

In fact, the whole page is worth a visit – just swap out the Dominion references for your local utility.

For utilities, the number one job is to keep their customers safe and to reconnect them to the grid as fast as possible. All their energy facilities – coal, gas, nuclear – will chug along and just need the transmission wires to keep transmitting. So that’s the priority.

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Just to frustrate our anti-wind friends who have seen videos of turbines blowing apart in a harsh storm:

If the turbine senses that the wind is stronger than 45 mph for more than a 10-minute period, it will feather the blades (turn them toward the wind so they do not generate lift) and shut itself off, he said.

If the power grid goes off, it will also automatically turn itself off.

“The wind turbine of course generates electricity and it pushes it onto the power grid,” he said.

If the power is out and National Grid employees are up on poles and otherwise trying to fix the outage, it would not be good to have that electricity still being pumped into the system, he said.

“Once power has been restored, we have to go and close that giant circuit breaker that connects the turbine to the grid,” he said.

So – not much use during a hurricane, but up and running pretty quickly afterward.

Here comes Irene!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fukushima goes China Syndrome: melted fuel reaches water table; 29 times more radiation released than Hiroshima

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6JbXZn2TXg

Anonymous said...

Horse manure. The "29 times" is a lie. That is only for one form, 137Cs. The total amount of activity release is much higher for a nuclear explosion. It just isn't all in the form of 137Cs, which is relatively long-lived and doesn't have time to build up in the relatively short pulse of fission/fusion that occurs in a nuclear explosion. There was no "China Syndrome", whatever that crap is. Stop playing whack-a-link. That won't buy you much credibility here.