Can You Really “Shut Down” a Nuclear Power Plant before a Hurricane?

Soothing words before the storm: “Our nuclear plants are now shut down.”

By Leonard Hyman and Bill Tilles:

There are those who believe the answers to life’s most pressing questions can be found in one of two movies: “The Godfather” (part one) or “The Princess Bride.” In the latter movie, think of the Spaniard’s vaguely taunting response: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Which might also be the reply to: “Our nuclear plants are now shut down.”

Right now we are thinking about the Turkey Point and St. Lucie nuclear power stations in South Florida, in the aftermath of hurricane Irma. But we could have been referring to the South Texas Nuclear Project south of Houston, just a week or two earlier.

Those Westinghouse pressurized water reactors have six modes of operation, sort of like gears in a car. The highest level of performance, mode 1 includes power operations all the way up to 100% power. Mode 6, the lowest level of operation, describes a plant in the state of being refueled.

Senior management at NextEra’s utility subsidiary, Florida Power & Light, placed their nuclear reactors in mode 4, “hot shutdown,” as the hurricane advanced towards the plants. (Mode 5 is cold shutdown with far lower internal reactor temperatures.)

In so-called hot shutdown, a nuclear plant has one primary requirement for ongoing safe operation — a reliable supply of electricity (assuming competent staff of course).

Even though nuclear plants produce electricity for the grid, they also require large amounts of electricity to maintain their own operations particularly in this instance for: 1) cooling the fuel in the recently operating nuclear reactor core and 2) cooling the spent fuel pools where used fuel rods are placed after removal from the reactor. These activities are known as residual heat removal.

Let’s get something straight. If the zombie apocalypse occurred tomorrow, really bad things would happen at nuclear plants. And perhaps in the surrounding area of say a few thousand square miles. But what would not happen is a nuclear explosion.




This is not to deny the potential for explosion. But a hydrogen explosion, a steam explosion and a nuclear bomb type explosion are three very different things. Only the first two have been experienced at commercial nuclear plants. Fukushima Daichi was an unfortunate case of the former (Three Mile Island may have come close) while Chernobyl experienced the latter.

Nuclear plants, thus, need considerable amounts of electricity to maintain safe operations around both the reactor and spent fuel pool. Most of the time, the power comes from another electric generating station nearby.

But when a hurricane knocks down the electric transmission lines, nuclear power plants rely on large, on-site diesel engines to provide electricity for continued operation.

During Hurricane Andrew, a category 4 hurricane which passed over the Turkey Point nuclear power station about twenty five years ago, all the units lost offsite power and relied solely on electricity from diesel generators for more than five days — until electrical connection with the grid was restored. Some variant of this scenario could be occurring, as we write.

At the Fukushima nuclear facility, an earthquake destroyed transmission lines, eliminating their offsite power source. The back-up diesels were rendered useless by the subsequent tsunami. The rest is an unfolding tragedy.

This is to us the Achilles heel of nuclear power. It takes a lot of electricity to keep all those cooling pumps running and the fissionable materials on site stable. When or if that steady flow of power to the nuclear plant is interrupted, it’s a concern – because in reality, no one can just “shut down” a nuclear plant before a hurricane, though the words are very soothing. By Leonard Hyman and Bill Tilles.

Why take an action that’ll result in higher electricity prices? The dismantlement of a New Deal institution in South Carolina. Read… Why Santee Cooper Matters




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  92 comments for “Can You Really “Shut Down” a Nuclear Power Plant before a Hurricane?

  1. FDR Liberal
    Sep 13, 2017 at 10:01 am

    The two biggest energy lies: clean coal and nuclear power is safe.

    • penfold dangermouse
      Sep 13, 2017 at 11:25 am

      for the record. more people die from complications from auto exhaust every year in the USA than the combined worldwide fatalities from nuke power.

      And if one is so adamant and fundamentalist about the evils of coal and nuke electricity, go live off-the-grid unless you want to be an accessory to environmental murder….as if you’re in the Eastern US, up to 50% of electricity produced during overnight hours is via nuclear. numbers are similar across the country

      http://www.pjm.com/markets-and-operations.aspx

      • walter map
        Sep 13, 2017 at 12:09 pm

        There are safe and economical alternatives to coal and nuclear power, which is why coal and nuclear power are in decline. In an increasing number of countries that decline appears terminal, driven by perfectly reasonable economic and technical dynamics.

        Naturally, industry mouthpieces have plenty of phony arguments against the alternatives, but they’re not going to bring back coal and nuclear simply because those rationales are, after all, phony. Nice use of stale logical fallacies, though.

        • nick kelly
          Sep 13, 2017 at 12:21 pm

          Nat gas

        • Gibbon1
          Sep 13, 2017 at 11:45 pm

          Friends dad taught nuclear engineering. Now retired. Without prompting he flat out said Nat gas killed coal and is killing nukes. And Solar and wind are going to kill nat gas eventually.

          Also noted that the mining departments in US universities are suddenly hurting badly because a lot of their grants and other funding came from coal companies.

        • Thor's Hammer
          Sep 14, 2017 at 5:10 pm

          The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor has the characteristic of automatic cold shut-down to a permanent passive state with no human intervention necessary. Doesn’t matter whether Monkeys, Zombies, or MIT engineers are in the control room— when the electric power goes off a frozen section of the drain thaws and all the molten salt containing the radioactive material flows by gravity into a permanent containment vessel.

          There are no brittle solid fuel rods in the reactor or stored on site, and no hypercritical cooling water system held at extreme pressure. Concentration of the radioactive elements is insufficient to create an atomic chain reaction explosion, and there is no cooling water present to cause a hydrogen explosion like those that breached the Fukushima reactors.

          What we call “nuclear power” is the result of a conscious choice to use civilian nuclear power to produce materials suitable for manufacturing bombs for the war machine. And the standard light water reactor design is as nearly as mad as building 14,000 doomsday bombs and using them to play games of chicken.

          But who ever thought that humans make rational decisions about their future?

      • TJ Martin
        Sep 13, 2017 at 12:22 pm

        ” for the record. more people die from complications from auto exhaust every year in the USA than the combined worldwide fatalities from nuke power ”

        1) Any stats to back that statement up ? In light of the facts and the difficulties involved in determining the number of fatalities directly caused by Internal Combustion Engine emissions .. I somehow doubt it .

        2) Using the phrase ‘ nuke power ‘ by implication includes nuclear weapons in which case you’re not only off base making such a statement you’re in another dimension

        3) The 2nd paragraph . To put this as gently and understandable philosophical terms as I can that argument is the epitome of circular logic riddled with over generalization irrelevant information .

        4) The PJM website you provide a link to . Hardly relevant to a discussion on the potential dangers of nuclear and coal based energy considering they have a blatant agenda and bias based on profits rather than the safety of the general public .

        Simple fact . Like it or not from waste disposal [ an issue still not resolved here in the US nor much of the world ] to the potential catastrophic consequences of a nuclear power plant accident of any level or kind ..

        … the words .. safe .. and nuclear in the same sentence is the oxymoron of the 20th 21st century with the the phrase ‘ safe coal ‘ being firmly in 2nd place . . Fact is … they aint no such thing in either case from mining -to refining – to the use – of right down to waste disposal of which there is a plethora of from cradle to grave .

        • Bobby Dale Bailey
          Sep 13, 2017 at 5:39 pm

          So what do you propose? Return to living in caves? Huddle around the wood stove? Wind farms off of Cape Cod, in San Francisco Bay and Long Island Sound? Or solar byproduct pollution in China and India? Pick your poison, all forms make a mess. Them damn Texans generate more electricity by wind than any other state.

        • Kraig
          Sep 20, 2017 at 1:43 pm

          Nat gas for the win (it’s cleaner-burning than wood) one of the most responsive for peak demand plants and can perform as storage for renewable (produce syngas when excess renewables then burn as needed.

      • Frederick
        Sep 13, 2017 at 1:51 pm

        I doubt that statistic and what about all the deformed kids being born in Belarus and Ukraine due to Chernobyl Don’t they factor into that equation in your mind How many cancers are directly related to leaky plants? We really don’t have statistics for that do we?

      • Joan of Arc
        Sep 13, 2017 at 2:03 pm

        “…go live off-the-grid unless you want to be an accessory to environmental murder…” – mouse

        A huge area around Fukushima is still in the grips of environmental murder of the worst kind…nuclear radiation. Reactors can be enemy targets in times of war and targets for terrorists. Why not eliminate all that risk with wind, solar and natural gas?

        • Lee
          Sep 13, 2017 at 7:27 pm

          And high electricity prices to boot.

          You want to see what happens to electricity prices when baseload fossil fuel shuts down look at South Australia.

          Want to see what happens when baseload coal providing 25% of the supply to Victoria is shut down and taken offline?

          Yeah: prices go up 20% a year.

          1 kWh in Victoria is now 40 cents a unit with daily supply charges at $1.40.

          Brilliant.

          I wonder what would happen in the USA if electricity prices were on par with us here in Australia?

          And NG? Export it at cheap prices and charge the domestic customer 3 times that export price.

          Outstanding.

          We are putting in a wood heater before next winter comes around. It will pay for itself in less than two years and also add value to the house.

      • Flying Monkey
        Sep 13, 2017 at 3:47 pm

        I find it unconscionable that we leave the waste of our power production for future generation to deal with.

        As an engineer Thorium sounds like a good possible replacement. Is this bullshit?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4

        • Realist
          Sep 14, 2017 at 12:14 am

          Torium might be a solution, but the biggest problem with torium is that you will not get all those nice byproducts that are needed to build nuclear weapons. In other words, torium is dead.

        • BTilles
          Sep 14, 2017 at 1:06 pm

          Hi,
          Thorium as a reactor fuel is definitely real. Thorium is more plentiful than uranium in the Earth’s outer crust. Produces less nuclear waste. The early knock on it was that the military couldn’t weaponize its by-products. Development on a reactor ceased around 1973 at the Oak Ridge National Labs.

      • Paulo
        Sep 13, 2017 at 4:37 pm

        There is a highway in the Valley where I live. I’m okay with that. Nuke power plant? hmmmm I don’t think so.

        What’s in your backyard, Penfold?

      • Jack
        Sep 13, 2017 at 5:21 pm

        Read up on “The Tooth Fairy Project”: http://www.radiation.org/projects/tooth_fairy.html

        You don’t want those daughter products in your body tissue and bones.

        • Gibbon1
          Sep 14, 2017 at 12:58 am

          The big lie that the nuclear industry puts out is to talk about radiation exposure in terms of simple x-ray radiation. Instead of what happens when nuclear isotopes get into people and importantly the bio-web where it’s subject to million to one bio-magnification.

      • Ed
        Sep 13, 2017 at 9:39 pm

        I’m not dead set against nuclear power plants. But your statistic about worldwide fatalities seems a little bit misleading to me, thought technically a true statement (I am willing to believe).

        I suspect that most “auto exhaust fatalities” lose a few years of life. Meanwhile, the land those people lived on is still available for use by their descendants. And those descendants’ health is not affected from birth by the auto exhaust, at least not so you notice.

        Serious differences, I figure, to the people in Japan, the Ukraine, and Belarus.

        • Kraig
          Sep 20, 2017 at 1:46 pm

          Plus massive industry wide and international government approach to phase out auto pollution , odd/even driving days congestion zones ,low emissions and ultra low emission zones are common (that’s before you get in to electrics. As well as trams, trolleybus,trains

      • Chris R
        Sep 14, 2017 at 1:03 am

        “more people die from complications from auto exhaust every year in the USA than the combined worldwide fatalities from nuke power”

        I read this as “now I have two things to worry about at once.”

    • Kraig
      Sep 20, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      The only clean coal is coal that has been gassified.(leave all the s**t behind as slag.

  2. 173d Viet Vet
    Sep 13, 2017 at 11:06 am

    And if the grid gets hit wit a massive Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) or and Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), what disasters would we then expect to befall our nuclear power stations??

    In the case of a CME, the plant operator might get advance notice from NASA’s close to the sun satellites and could go to Mode 1 while readying the diesel generators (which hopefully have been shielded from CME and EMP pulses). But if an enemy sets off a nuke above our nation to create an EMP there would be almost no advance notice. Thus, the nuclear power plant would lose outside electricity instantly. Even if its generators were properly shielded, the plant would not have time to get diesel generators on line to prevent a Chernobyl type steam explosion, IMHO.

    Hope our nuclear plant regulators recognize this problem and are taking steps to prevent such a disaster, but my guess is that they are doing little to nothing…..

    • BTilles
      Sep 13, 2017 at 11:36 am

      That’s a good question about the risk of coronal mass ejections (emps). The best answer I can give is to point to the cme event of March 13, 1989. The principal impact was a disruption and blackout of Hydro-Quebec’s system which lasted about ten hours. It was their long transmission lines across their service area as well as unique local geography that made them vulnerable. This was seen as a transmission system exposure, not a particular risk for power plants. In the region, only New England sufferered a significant loss of generating capacity due to the event.

      • curious cat
        Sep 13, 2017 at 12:31 pm

        The CME event of 1989 doesn’t even come close to the Carrington Event of 1859, an CME event of such magnitude that even telegraph keys were said to have caught fire. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859

        Of course that will never happen again.

        • Sep 13, 2017 at 2:55 pm

          They didn’t have surge protectors in 1859,

    • Thunderstruck
      Sep 13, 2017 at 11:46 am

      “In the case of a CME, the plant operator might get advance notice from NASA’s close to the sun satellites and could go to Mode 1 while readying the diesel generators (which hopefully have been shielded from CME and EMP pulses).”

      Sorry, but the last place they’d wanna be is “Mode 1”. More likely, if given enough time, the would shoot for Mode 5 (cold shutdown). The EDG’s are always available (except for 72 hour maintenance periods allowed) and don’t need to “be prepared for operation”. They should start and load within 10 seconds of their corresponding bus losing power, and then sequence loads back on. Non-essential loads will be stripped and those needed for Reactor Coolant System inventory control and Residual Heat Removal will be powered. Each EDG is required to have a *minimum* of seven days fuel – assuming it will be at full power. If the unit is already off line and in cold shutdown then the power requirements will be greatly lowered and the fuel burn rate will be correspondingly lower too. If you start out in Mode 5, then only one train of shutdown cooling will be needed. That could allow you to stretch out refueling periods for the EDG’s to once every two weeks – plenty of time for clearing roads and getting fuel trucks through.

      • StanFL
        Sep 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm

        This is exactly true. A requirement is for almost immediate automatic startup of the diesels. This is inspected and tested regularly, as is the switching of the electrical network to diesel power. US nuclear plants have extremely detailed plans for emergencies of different kinds. I have never seen any other facilities which could compare with nuclear ones for accident preparedness.

    • Ethan in NoVA
      Sep 13, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      Hello. Wire acts like an antenna that catches the electrical radiation. This happens with every lightning strike. I think it would take a HUGE amount of radiation to do widespread damage. Only electronics close to the lightning strike are usually damaged, and look at the power behind that. Of course the longer the wire the bigger the antenna to catch energy. On the flip side, the smaller the device on the end of the wire the more risk to damage — but modern electronics have the ability to withstand a lot more static shock and abuse as the transistors are much better (source, I repair old arcade machines and computers.)

      So when it comes to a huge EMP pulse and gensets, I guess I would be worried maybe about the electronic controllers that might be strapped to the generators (maybe for frequency syncronization? I work in a building that has over 30MW of diesel generators on hand and they get there by synchronizing 3MW or 2MW generators. Outside of that, the physical wire windings and infrastructure of large power delivery would take an insane amount of energy to harm I would think?

      Note – we’re in a solar flare right now. Not sure if we’re getting more server memory corruption across our infrastructure here at work above normal, doesn’t look like it. It might flip a few bits in RAM which is caught by error correction but doesn’t seem to be having an effect.

      • I.E.Kovacsi
        Sep 13, 2017 at 2:08 pm

        Somewhere on Youtube is a old movie on the effects of a nuke on power substations. Distance was one and two miles. They found little damage and that from blast. Newer EMP specific bombs should be more effective. EMP is similar to many simultaneous lightning strikes in a large area. Power distribution will be shut down as many (most?) fuses and disconnects blow. Power generators can be harmed by unexpected total load shedding. Receivers will fail as antennas overload the input circuits. DOD and Civil defense sites on .gov/.mil sites have a fair amount of info on this if anyone should care to look further. There was testing with actual nukes.

        • Ethan in NoVA
          Sep 14, 2017 at 9:39 am

          But it’s also a distance thing right? Lightning usually only damaged electronics if the strike is in a couple hundred feet.

          Good thing much of the telecommunications network is fiber I guess :-)

          I was reading up on the CME event in 1989 and saw it took out a lot of power generation. NASA should just send out word and they should use the SCADA control networks to just dump open all relays and cut off the consumers to save the distribution infrastructure.

    • Joe Dubyah
      Sep 14, 2017 at 6:28 pm

      Would the radio signal from the satellite outrun the CME wave?

  3. Petunia
    Sep 13, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Turkey Point dodged a really large bullet when Irma turned away from it. Had Irma hit Miami, from the south and stalled in the area, we might have gotten another Fukushima. The storm surge alone in Miami was several feet in the downtown area.

    • BTilles
      Sep 13, 2017 at 11:52 am

      We don’t disagree. But they did sustain a direct hit from Andrew back in the day. To the point where their anemoneter broke off after registering 154 mph. The NRC/INPO report has all the gory details.

      • Petunia
        Sep 13, 2017 at 11:58 am

        I don’t know much about nuclear engineering, but I lived in south FL, and it is known there that that plant has been leaking for some time. It seems to be an accident waiting to happen.

        • BTilles
          Sep 13, 2017 at 12:15 pm

          The issue for Turkey Point and leaking appears to be their numerous cooling canals surrounding the plant and adjacent to Biscayne Bay. Elevated tritium levels in the bay suggest the supposedly isolated canals are leaching into the bay. Of significant local concern is also saltwater intrusion from the plant’s canals adversely affecting nearby drinking supplies.

    • Thomas H Belstler
      Sep 13, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      I would be really difficult to replicate Fukushima. One really has to work hard and long to create a disaster of that magnitude. The Japanese showed an incredible amount of insouciance in the management of the accident, an amount that would never be tolerated here in the US. The NRC would come in to run the plant like it did at 3 Mile Island long before it could deteriorate even close to the state that the Japanese allowed their plant to get to.

      GE, the manufacturer of the Japanese plants had a disaster team ready to go within hours but the Japanese refused all outside aid and continue to refuse outside expertise to this day.

  4. raxadian
    Sep 13, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Want clean coal? Use wood. Earth has been burning wood before humanity even existed and the apocalypse didn’t come nearer. Of course unlike with humans, the effect of forest fires and volcanic eruptions ensured green would grown afterwards. Volcanic ash is quite a good fertiliser and wood ash isn’t that bad as one.

    • fajensen
      Sep 14, 2017 at 3:42 am

      Scale Matters a lot. Burning wood is fine enough for heating a relatively small amount of housing and fuelling the odd steam machine. Wood burning is just not sustainable on a larger scale, there are reasons behind our ancestors using coal rather than wood to fuel the industrial revolution.

      I think that, were one to scale up to the energy levels requested from an industrialised society, then the side effects of wood burning will be much worse than burning coal is: The energy density of wood is a lot lower, the burn temperature is lower meaning the carnot efficiency of power plants will suck compared to coal or natural gas, important metallurgy like steel making is not possible just with wood (they had to use charcoal before), more ash is produced per kWh some of that ash is minerals removed from the soil and now not placed back, our natural forests must be strip-mined and/or force-grown like we do agriculture today thus turning yet more soil into chemically infused dirt … and so on.

      The only good thing is that the costs per kWh for solar and wind is now killing coal and nuclear so we don’t have to “go there”, except for some CO2 number-gaming which drives abominations like “bio-fuel” ….

    • Scott
      Sep 14, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      Sure, wood does not have the heavy metals coal does. However, burning it does release significant pollution. Large numbers of people burning wood would create problems.

      • Thomas H Belstler
        Sep 14, 2017 at 11:34 pm

        Here is an explanation for why wood is not widely used as a fuel for commercial sized power plants.

        chrome-extension://cbnaodkpfinfiipjblikofhlhlcickei/src/pdfviewer/web/viewer.html?file=http://www.nacdnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/AppendixA.pdf

        I hope you folks can open the link.

        One of the drivers of the industrial revolution was the need to replace wood as the primary energy source. England’s domestic wood became too expensive for common industrial use and it was forced to import ever more quantities of wood from abroad which caused an ever increasing negative balance of trade. Remember, trade imbalances were settled in gold back then so this was a real problem for the country.

        In the US, the state of Massachusetts burned all its forests except for a small swath in the northwest corner before switching to coal as the preferred fuel.

        In SC where I live, there are ever larger areas of clearcut because the wood is processed into pellets and shipped to Great Britain to fuel the coal fired power plant they converted to wood. Driving down I-95 along the coast, one sees huge swaths of clearcut.

        The argument that the lost carbon sink (the tree) will be replaced by nature is specious. It will take 30 years for nature to grow an equivalent sink and that sink will not use any more carbon than the one that was destroyed so there are now 30 years of carbon in the atmosphere that were formerly taken up by the tree but now have no place to go.

        • fajensen
          Sep 16, 2017 at 5:15 am

          … and what was a living forest is being replaced with a boring “field of trees”, with degraded biodiversity.

          Bio-fuels is a genuinely nutty idea.

  5. walter map
    Sep 13, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    I couldn’t help noticing that the wind power industry in Texas, the largest in the US, survived H. Harvey almost completely unscathed. Compare this to fossil fuel and nuclear energy, which routinely present spectacular problems on their best days, much less with a severe weather event.

    Even the worse earthquake cannot result in a wind or solar farm causing a nuclear disaster, which is what a nuclear plant does while operating under ideal conditions and the best management practices.

    • Ethan in NoVA
      Sep 13, 2017 at 1:03 pm

      A big issue is our nuclear plants are way old. There are much newer designs, and safer designs. But the reluctance to build anything new and the high costs of nuclear thwart that. Wind and solar are great, but nice clean base power is also good. Not sure running natural gas jet engines all the time is the way to go.

      • BTilles
        Sep 13, 2017 at 1:20 pm

        There is also base load natural gas fired capacity via combined cycle turbines (ccgts). Lower capital costs, more longer term fuel cost uncertainty.

      • fajensen
        Sep 14, 2017 at 4:12 am

        “Base Load” is a technical artefact produced by the legacy grid design.

        Back in the day, the engineers had only a few places where they could control active and reactive power production. They need this control to stabilise the voltage and frequency in the grid so that power flows in a controlled way in the vast and interconnected network of many resonant things.

        The “Base Load” is the generating capacity required to produce and consume reactive power to stabilise the grid and force power to flow in the right direction. If the grid becomes physically smaller, the loads more uniform, the grid less resonant, the need for “control capacity”, a.k.a. Base Load is also reduced.

        Fast load- and power generation- changes in the active power can be – and currently is – handled with gas turbines and batteries (which we already have because both nuclear and coal takes hours to spin up).

        The “new grid” needed to control the variability of wind and solar will slowly “chop up” The One Grid into cells, which are separated by bi-directional power converters connecting to a HVDC “overlay” grid.

        Similar converters are also replacing the transformers at wind/solar farms. Using the active converters, the engineers can control the voltage and frequency in each cell, locally, which is a *much* simpler control problem than finding the best global “settings” for a 3000 km wide grid with millions of very odd loads and components from a few central locations as they are doing now.

        Thus, in the future, everyone will not get “exactly” the same frequency, phase and voltage all over the grid. And – Nobody will notice this at all.

    • Bobby Dale
      Sep 13, 2017 at 5:47 pm

      Can you please convince the good people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the States of New York and California that they should accept the visual “pollution” of wind farms?

      • walter map
        Sep 13, 2017 at 8:44 pm

        Presumably you prefer the esthetics of an industrial wasteland. Pittsburgh’s your paradise, Bobby.

  6. Mike R.
    Sep 13, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    This article is basically nonsense. I am a professional engineer that spent 28 years directly managing Duke Energy nuclear power plants. Having said that, I no longer support nuclear power basically because I do not believe they are economical and certainly not ‘green’. It takes a huge amount of fossil fuel investment to build one of these things and to keep maintaining it; something most people don’t understand or talk about.

    Without going into a lot of technical detail, the safest state of a pressurized water reactor (St. Lucie and Turkey Point), is a hot standby mode where the reactor is subcritical and decay heat is removed by cooling water that turns to steam. Yes, the plant is dependent on multiple backup generators to run the pumps; however, even on loss of that equipment, there are additional long term methods to remove the decay heat from the reactor core. In addition, while Fukishima was a horrible ecological disaster, the US plants learned alot and enacted further emergency backup measures such as additional cooling sources, backup to backup power, higher surge walls, etc.

    Is it 100% absolute safe. No. Nothing is in our lives. But I wouldn’t lose any sleep over a hurricane hitting those plants; even with a large storm surge.

    • curious cat
      Sep 13, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      Problem with engineers (and I happen to have a degree in Chemical Engineering) is that they study physical process not human behavior.

      • Mike R.
        Sep 13, 2017 at 4:11 pm

        Yours is astute comment. The biggest factor in any technological based risk is not what the engineers design but how well the operators understand and follow the design. The US nuke industry made huge gains in human performance over the 80’s to present. An entire technical group of multidisciplinary people are devoted at each plant to asking question, monitoring human performance and directing corrective actions.
        Still, ultimately you are correct in that anything human can and will eventually error.

    • walter map
      Sep 13, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      “while Fukishima was a horrible ecological disaster, the US plants learned alot”

      So have their financiers, who have cancelled plans for new plants.

      The only really effective way to avoid a nuclear plant disaster is not to have a plant.

      • Scott
        Sep 13, 2017 at 1:24 pm

        The financiers will forget about it and start funding new plants in a decade or two. Long Island Lighting Company (Lilco) and Public Service Company of New Hampshire both went bankrupt over nuclear plant overruns and Consumers Energy nearly did. As soon as those evens faded from memory we were back financing plants and overcharging rate payers.

        • BTilles
          Sep 13, 2017 at 1:39 pm

          Hi Scott,
          At least we agree on New Hampshire. Likco never went bankrupt. LIPA bought some of the assets and the rest merged with the old Brooklyn Union Gas to form Keyspan.

        • Mike R.
          Sep 13, 2017 at 4:15 pm

          It wasn’t financiers that caused those bankruptcies. It was NE labor unions, inept utility management and the huge price inflation of the late 70’s/early 80’s that caused it. Its probably a good thing those plants were never finished because is was obvious from their construction management they had no business operating a nuclear plant.

    • BTilles
      Sep 13, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for weighing in.
      “Yes, the plant is dependent on multiple back up (electrical) generators to run the pumps…”

      “Is it 100% absolute safe. No.”

      An excellent summary of key points yet you call the article “basically nonsense”.

      • Mike R.
        Sep 13, 2017 at 4:01 pm

        The article states: “It takes a lot of electricity to keep all those cooling pumps running and the fissionable materials on site stable.”

        Actually, if you shut down early (in advance), it takes very little electrical power to keep the core and spent fuel pools cool. Much less than the emergency diesel generators are required to provide because they are sized for an accident at 100% power.

        What Fukushima taught us is that additional, manually deployed backup systems made from high quality commercial grade equipment, further reduces the probability of a serious accident. These backup to backup systems are actually quite inexpensive compared to nuclear grade safety systems.

        So I think the authors are not up on the latest safety improvements that came from Fukushima.

    • walter map
      Sep 13, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      “. . . additional cooling sources, backup to backup power, higher surge walls, etc.”

      Sounds expensive. No wonder nuclear requires such heavy public subsidies. Alternatives have no use and no need for these things, and practically nothing in the way of your waste disposal, disaster preparedness, and politician rental costs besides.

      Some capitalists prefer the alternatives, if only because there are so few of those pesky workers on the payroll and such tiny insurance premiums.

      • Mike R.
        Sep 13, 2017 at 4:02 pm

        See my reply to comment above yours. Not expensive by nuclear standards.

    • Thomas H Belstler
      Sep 13, 2017 at 11:12 pm

      Mike R.

      I think you meant to say that the safest condition for a PWR is cold shutdown. That is coolant temperature of < or = to 200 degrees F. Ambient temperature in other words. This mode requires the least amount of coolant and those requirements will continue to decline as the residual heat from the core decay continues to decline. This condition also allows the reactor core to be offloaded into the spent fuel pool without imposing further cooling requirements should that become necessary for some reason.

  7. Felix_47
    Sep 13, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Either we are going to need some serious population control worldwide or we are going need nuclear. ….unless there is some carbon recycling that is cheap and not energy intensive. The people in the population belt of the world are either going to develop a high energy demand economy or they are going to come to the US and Europe to be in a high energy demand economy. I don`t see China opening its doors. Solar is great but its cost seems dependent on the Chinese and/or whatever slave labor manufacturing economy is chosen. Solar panels are not being made much in the US.

    • walter map
      Sep 13, 2017 at 7:23 pm

      “Either we are going to need some serious population control worldwide or we are going need nuclear.”

      Keep going nuclear and population control won’t be a problem.

  8. unit472
    Sep 13, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Fukushima was a very close call. Had the containment structures or spent fuel pools failed the site itself would have been off limits and the disaster would have been irretrievable.

    Tepco brought in back up generators for the failed back ups but there was no quick way to connect these to the reactor cooling systems. The industry says that won’t happen again as they have installed emergency connections so power can be restored even after a ‘Station Blackout’. What they would do if a spent fuel pool collapsed and caught fire I have no idea. Maybe keeping spent fuel rods at the same site as operating nuclear reactors isn’t a good idea.

    What concerns me is what happens if another country without the industrial expertise and financial resources of Japan has a nuclear reactor accident. Could they cope? Even as Japan struggles to manage the disaster at Fukushima their nuclear industry is trying to sell nuclear power plants to Vietnam and other countries. Maybe we need to put some controls on nuclear power plant proliferation before some nation gets in over its head.

    • Joan of Arc
      Sep 13, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      Just quit building them and phase all the built ones out.

    • BTilles
      Sep 13, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Hi Unit 472,
      Re Fukushima: “Had the containment structures…failed…”

      In unit 1, for example, reactor fuel heated to about 2800 degerees, melted through the steel reactor vessel and also melted through 42 centimeters of cement drywall. I’m not an engineer but am pretty sure this constitutes failure.

      • unit472
        Sep 13, 2017 at 3:42 pm

        True, but the fuel appears to have settled in the flooded basement of the building so it is ‘contained’, i.e. radiation levels at the plant are not so high as to make it impossible for humans to approach the facility.

    • Mike R.
      Sep 13, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      unit 472, Fukushima was NOT a close call. Fukushima was an unmitigated disasater of the highest order. Probably worse than Chernobyl when all tolled.

      The Japanese were negligent in how they lived with known design weaknesses of these older GE boiling water reactors AND in particular with them sited on known seismic hot beds with tsunami potential. The accident design basis of the plant did account for tsunami protection but not high enough. What they didn’t ask themselves was what we could do if a one foot higher tsunami struck than what was designed for. Had they done that, a whole array of relatively inexpensive backup to backup systems and equipment could have been provided. Of course hind sight is 20-20; however, I can say categorically, that US plant operational philosophy clearly trump what the Japanese have done. You only have to look at their culture to recognize they would not be good candidates for supporting a questioning attitude environment which has been instilled in US operating plants. Their culture is very obedient and non-questioning and I feel sure that carried over in their plant operation and design.

      • nick kelly
        Sep 13, 2017 at 6:45 pm

        Fukushima was nowhere near as bad as Chernobyl which was covered up for at least a week. The first outsiders to have an inkling were the West Germans, who received an highly unusual question from the USSR about ways to extinguish burning graphite.

        Down wind foreign countries (E.g. Finland) picked up the radiation that spewed out hundreds of times a Hiroshima event daily, long before the people living a few miles away were even notified.
        Finland had to ban reindeer meat.

        Unlike Fukushima, most of the first responders showed symptoms of radiation poisoning very soon and many died.
        The local population and ground was heavily contaminated and increased cancers have been detected and will be for decades.

        Although the point here is the severity of the two events. at least Fukushima has some claim to the mitigating ‘act of God’ i.e. the tsunami.
        The Chernobyl disaster was entirely man- made, an act of negligent operation. They were experimenting with running it at low power, where it was known to be unstable, when it looked like the reaction might ‘die’ requiring a day of start- up and a trainload of coal to make up for it. So over the objections of the operator, the rods were pulled back to the max. For a fraction of a second this cured the low power problem, then the reactor blew up.

        • Mike R.
          Sep 13, 2017 at 7:54 pm

          WE are probably splitting hairs here. Both were horrific. Both released tremendous amounts of radiation and many people will die or are dead. As far as cause, really what does it matter that one was totally operational error and the other was caused by a tsunami? Aren’t both “man made” in every sense?? Think about it.

        • nick kelly
          Sep 13, 2017 at 9:48 pm

          Has anyone died because of Fukushima?

        • Sep 13, 2017 at 11:10 pm

          Nick Kelly,

          Yes, including the Fukushima plant manager, Masao Yoshida of cancer, at age 58, in 2013, two years after the event. As the nuclear energy industry ALWAYS does, TEPCO, which owns the plant, denied that his death was related to the nuclear accident. Nearly every word that TEPCO, the most hated company in Japan, has said about Fukushima has later turned out to be a lie.

          When a car gets into an accident with fatalities, it’s easy to link the fatalities to the accident. Fatalities of nuclear accidents occur via cancer years and decades later. The industry ALWAYS as matter of principle, denies any connection. You can totally rely on that. And they send their trolls to sites like this to spread the word.

        • Realist
          Sep 14, 2017 at 12:26 am

          They are still burying game and reindeer in northern Sweden due to Chernobyl. northern Sweden did apparently get worse hit by the fall out than Finland.

        • fajensen
          Sep 14, 2017 at 4:33 am

          I actually know someone who got thyroid cancer at 18 and also survived, both events are very unusual.

          She was a little girl at the time of Chernobyl, living in England and as normal children do, was pottering around, bulk-eating all the berries in her parents garden — at about the time that the cloud from Chernobyl went over.

          Buried in the statistics, I think one could find enough individual cases to make a good enough trend for blaming Chernobyl.

        • BTilles
          Sep 14, 2017 at 12:45 pm

          If I did the math right it looks like Chernobyl is estimated to have emitted about 10 times the radiation of Fukushima.

      • Thomas H Belstler
        Sep 13, 2017 at 11:35 pm

        MIke R.

        I agree with your assessment of how the Japanese handled the accident! Having experience with high voltage large power plant operations, I can say that all they had to do was bring in portable generators whose output had the proper voltage and wired them into the breakers that controlled the internal distribution of power in the plant. I’m sure that there were some available because the search for the proper equipment should have been worldwide. I’m sure that the entire world would have been happy to supply all the technical help they could use in order to restore power to the reactors as quickly as possible but they refused all offers from what I understand.

        GE remotely monitors the condition of its reactors as do all other manufacturers so they knew almost as soon as the plant operators that this was a giant disaster in the making and offered to send a technical team even as the event was unfolding in real time. Their help was refused from what I understand.

      • Graham
        Sep 15, 2017 at 4:08 pm

        ” I can say categorically, that US plant operational philosophy clearly trump what the Japanese have done.”

        The GE MK1 an MK2 reactors have been know to be unsafe since the 1970s and possibly before: The containment is too small.

        The correct solution would have been to shut them all down.
        The US solution to this prior to Fukushima was to hope they’d never be a meltdown.
        The US solution to this after Fukushima is to add vent pipes to vent the containment to the outside air, thus making the containment useless.

        Stock up on Iodine pills.
        I would therefore question an US competence in the nuclear field, it’s clearly a case of cost cutting and hoping rather than the correct safety and respect these dangerous items deserve.

  9. walter map
    Sep 13, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    “Solar panels are not being made much in the US.”

    That’s because decent jobs are one of America’s leading exports, possibly exceeded only by offshored corporate profits. US corporatists paid a fortune in rented politicians to have that set in stone as federal policy and aren’t about to let it get undone. Sorry.

    The Chinese did such a great job with your railroads it was only natural they’d get repeat business to also do your conversion to solar power.

    • Flying Monkey
      Sep 13, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      The US is the leading exporter of US $’s.

      We export $’s for stuff. We get stuff as log as we can make digital credits and new IOUs. It is a great system. Nobody needs to work anymore.

    • Bobby Dale
      Sep 13, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      The EPA would not allow for cost effective production, i.e. at a price that makes them acceptable to the consumer or taxpaying subsidizer, of solar panels in the USA.

      • walter map
        Sep 13, 2017 at 7:08 pm

        That’s weapons-grade baloneyum, but then, it’s always somebody else’s fault, isn’t it Bobby?

        Besides, your customers are bound to die someday anyway, so why bother having any environmental protections, right?

        • Bobby Dale
          Sep 13, 2017 at 7:31 pm

          Are you suggesting that paying American wages , plus American environmental regulations would allow for profitable manufacture of solar panels? I await your math.

        • walter map
          Sep 13, 2017 at 8:38 pm

          “I await your math.”

          Bobby, if you can’t make a profit without cheating your workers and killing your customers you definitely shouldn’t be wasting scarce investor capital by pursuing unnecessary bankruptcy. How are you at bagging groceries? Got any skills related to license plate manufacture?

  10. Kenny Logins
    Sep 13, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Way to go putting an article like this on Wolf Street, Wolf!

    One step closer to devolving like ZH has over the last few years by drawing in partisan commenting about mushy grey topics.

    Please stop.

    • Sep 13, 2017 at 4:49 pm

      Huh?

    • Joan of Arc
      Sep 13, 2017 at 5:40 pm

      Kenny Logins needs to stick to singing and refrain from internet police activities, curtailment of free speech, and proliferating the radiation of all things living on earth.

      • Ken L
        Sep 14, 2017 at 5:37 am

        Joan of Irony.

        Then let it descend into the delegitimisation of legitimate messages through the same mechanism we’ve seen elsewhere.

  11. Kenny Loggins
    Sep 13, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Business, finance & money.

    This comes under?

    Arguing over semantics of how to turn a nuclear power plant off?

    • Sep 13, 2017 at 7:04 pm

      “Energy” — including oil & gas, nuclear, and renewables — are a big part of this site. You can find those articles here:

      https://wolfstreet.com/category/all/energy/

      BTW, energy is a huge part of “business, finance & money.”

      • Kenny Logins
        Sep 14, 2017 at 5:11 am

        So where is the finance angle?

        No usual Wolf level insight and analysis.

        It felt like an opinion piece with readers left to make an opinion.

        Please do whatever you want then, but it’s this kind of unfocused material that ruined ZH.
        WS is a daily read and the insight in articles is excellent.

        This felt more like a ZH piece to me.

        Just saying.

  12. mean chicken
    Sep 13, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Did someone say hydrogen?

    Are we STILL awaiting Lockheed’s sodium reactors?
    ______________________________________________________

    While the Chernobyl site may have been developing nuclear isomer battery technology and perhaps other exciting projects, it is no longer functional.

    Harking back to the good old days when North Korean rocket launches kept blowing up…

  13. Jim Graham
    Sep 14, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    The fox in the nuke chicken house is – and proably allways will be – waste disposal.

    Will we load it all onto rockets and send it to the sun for disposal or send it into space in such a direction that it does not come back to our solar system for a million years or so??

    As a side note on a global warming “solution” – send a giant silver mylar umbrella out into space and shield the earth from some of the sun’s rays. It could be shifted around so we could control the amount of heat from the sun that was striking the earth. That MIGHT give us a little more time to get control of our production of greenhouse gases.

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