Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nuclear Plant Loses Electricity in Virginia after Quake

Wall Street Journal
Rebecca Smith, Tennile Tracy, Gary Fields

Tuesday's 5.8-magnitude earthquake created a state of emergency at the North Anna nuclear-power station in central Virginia, causing it to lose electricity and automatically shut down, although generators restored power.

The North Anna Power Station declared an "alert" status, which is the second lowest of four emergency situations.

Jim Norvelle, director of media relations for Dominion Resources Inc., operator of the North Anna plant, said its workers inspected the switch yard, through which electricity enters and leaves the installation, and believe problems there caused the nuclear plant to lose access to grid power. When the plant lost access to grid power, it automatically shut down.

Mr. Norvelle said the four diesel generators at the plant, 40 miles northwest of Richmond, can furnish enough electricity to run vital safety systems indefinitely at the two-reactor site. Electricity is needed to keep the reactor cores covered with coolant and to keep safe temperatures in spent fuel pools. Problems in both those areas led to the near-meltdown of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, following a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

It will be at least several days before the North Anna plant is returned to service, the company said. First, workers must make sure there was no earthquake damage. That requires a thorough inspection of many systems. Then a slow and orderly process is followed to return reactors to service.
"As far as we know, everything is safe," said Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman David McIntyre.

Twelve additional nuclear plants in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina and Michigan declared "unusual events," the lowest of four emergency situations. They included Calvert Cliffs, the closest nuclear plant to Washington, D.C. The plant remained stable at 100% of capacity, said Mark Sullivan, a spokesman with Constellation Energy Nuclear Group LLC, which owns the plant.

The Calvert Cliffs plant is in Lusby, Md., about 50 miles from the city limits of the nation's capital.
Mr. Sullivan said that as part of normal procedure, employees were performing increased observations and instrumentation monitoring.

Meanwhile, at the Indian Point nuclear-power plant north of New York City, officials said some minor shaking was felt, but the facility was still online and operating at full power.

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