We Asked Nuclear Power Plants How They’ll Handle Hurricane Matthew


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Hurricane Matthew is about to slam into an area of the East Coast with 11 nuclear reactors, but industry experts say it is ready for the Category 4 storm.

Hurricanes are relatively predictable events, for which relevant first responders regularly train, officials told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Nuclear reactors are resilient structures that can handle storm damage, they also said.

“Nuclear power plants are the most robust in the U.S. infrastructure, with reactor containment structures of steel-reinforced concrete engineered to withstand extreme natural events,” Meghan Miles, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, told TheDCNF. Duke owns the operating reactor in the path of the storm.

“Our nuclear plant operators are trained one out of every five weeks on simulators to safely manage extreme events, including hurricanes. Operators track these storms days in advance of the storm making landfall to take actions as mandated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s guidelines and the nuclear plants’ emergency preparedness plans.”

Duke will keep staff on site during the storm to deal with any emergencies and will shut down reactors for at least two hours before the onset of hurricane-force winds at the site as a precautionary measure, Miles added. Staff are already verifying weather-tight doors and ensuring that water intakes are adequate.

Other reactors are taking similar precautions.

“We are closely monitoring Hurricane Matthew in the Atlantic and making all necessary preparations,” Michelle Tims, a spokeswoman for Southern Nuclear, which owns a reactor in Georgia, told TheDCNF. “Our plants have redundant safety systems that are designed to withstand the impact of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.”

When it makes landfall, Matthew will likely be stronger than any hurricane in recent decades, including the 2004 Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne, as well as Hurricane David in 1979, according to the National Weather Service. The storm’s expected to make its way up the coast, but will head out to sea after striking South Carolina

Nuclear power generates much of the electricity in the area most likely to be impacted by Matthew. Roughly 54 percent of all electricity produced in South Carolina comes from the state’s four nuclear power facilities and other out-of-state reactors, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Nuclear power, even with the two high-profile nuclear accidents, is statistically the safest way of generating electricity. Coal power in China kills 280,000 people for every trillion kilowatt hours it produces. Rooftop solar kills 440 for the same amount of electricity. Nuclear energy only kills 90, by this measure, including deaths from disasters. Deaths from nuclear power, are very rare relative to deaths from industrial accidents, mining accidents, or pollution.

Even before the Chernobyl meltdown in the former Soviet Union, U.S. reactors had already implemented safety procedures that would prevent a similar event from happening in the U.S. The reactor at Fukushima could not be cooled without electrical power, but American reactors elevate a reservoir of water to cool the reactor without back-up power in an emergency.

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