Millstone, NRC have backup plan in place

Waterford - Millstone Power Station and the federal inspectors monitoring the nuclear reactors here are using their own meteorologists to pinpoint the likely time frame and wind speed of Hurricane Irene.

While Dominion, the owner of the two operating and one closed reactor here on Long Island Sound, won't share tailored forecasts, Brian Haagensen, an inspector for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stationed here, did.

As of Thursday morning, Tropics Watch informed the NRC inspectors that it expected maximum sustained wind speeds of 65 to 80 mph, with gusts up to 104 mph, arriving onsite around 11 p.m. Sunday, he said. That generally fits the profile of a category 1 hurricane, the least damaging type, but these forecasts change constantly and are updated continually, Haagensen said.

"The people in the region are looking at this hour by hour," he said. "There are inherent unknowns in all this stuff."

Ken Holt, the Dominion spokesman, said the Richmond, Va.,-based parent company's two in-house meteorologists are "monitoring Irene right now and looking at its impact on any Dominion properties. (They provide) the most up-to-date information that we can have."

In the meantime, Dominion will beef up staffing beyond the minimum weekend level, "so if the storm gets worse, there are people here who are ready to respond," Holt said. "We'll have two shifts and we have facilities here where people can stay and sleep and get a shower if at the end of the shift it's not safe to leave."

Besides Haagensen, two other NRC inspectors who work regularly at the site will be in the area Saturday and Sunday, ready to respond, with help from others.

"The three of us will be in the area and (on site) over various times over the weekend," Haagensen said. "Two more - one from the (NRC) regional office and one from another plant - will augment (coverage at) our plant should we need it. Between the five of us, we'll set up a rotation: Two people, one in each control room on site, during the storm, and people in before and after the storm passes."

Dominion has also taken a number of steps to ensure safe operations, or if need be, safe shutdowns, as they conservatively plan for a worst-case scenario.

"We've rescheduled maintenance activities for the weekend," Holt said. "We are ensuring there are no projectiles or any materials left outside that are not strapped down. We're looking at staffing for the weekend, bringing more people in. We're ready, we're prepared."

As the storm gets closer, Dominion will also evaluate shutting the reactors down "if we need to," Holt said.

In light of the impact of the tsunami on Japan's Fukushima plants, the threat of a loss of offsite power is perhaps the biggest concern at Millstone and any other reactors in the path of the hurricane, including Dominion's two North Anna reactors in Mineral, Va., and its counterparts at nearby Surry.

North Anna this week lost offsite power during the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the Northeast, but most of its backup generators kicked in as designed.

At Millstone, two emergency diesel generators at each reactor, Unit 2 and Unit 3, are stored in areas not prone to flooding: in concrete buildings with flood barriers on the doors, Holt said. There is a diesel generator at Unit 1, the closed reactor, to supply electricity to the spent fuel pool there. And there are two extra backups: a station blackout diesel and a security diesel generator, he said.

p.daddona@theday.com

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments