Posts Tagged ‘oyster creek nj’

In an earlier post, we noted that the explosions at the Fukushima reactors that caused plumes of radioactive material to spread over parts of Japan were caused not by a breach of the reactor’s core, but rather by loss of the heat sink, or pool, in which spent fuel is stored. To maintain the heat sink, large quantities of water have to be continuously pumped through the spent fuel pool. When Fukushima’s backup generator failed because of flood damage, that heat sink was lost and hydrogen explosions soon followed.

Hurricane Sandy caused Exelon’s Oyster Creek (NJ) nuclear station, the oldest operating nuke station in the United States, to lose grid electricity, compelling Exelon to rely on a backup generator. And elsewhere in New Jersey, the pumps at PSEG’s Salem nuclear station (also partly owned by Exelon) were damaged by the storm surge. The station was shut down but suffered a release of steam with “trace elements of tritium.”

“No cause for concern by the public,” a spokesman for the plant said.


Remember that for several days after the Three Mile Island partial meltdown in 1979, officials had no idea of the extent of the danger. After Fukushima, Japanese authorities implemented a 10 mile evacuation zone, while U. S. authorities halfway around the globe recommended that Americans in Japan evacuate beyond a radius of 50 miles. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of Fukushima, some leading nuclear experts averred that Fukushima would not be another Chernobyl. A few weeks later, it was ranked second only to that Russian nuclear disaster.

The media even reported that Oyster Creek was at a lower risk of a serious incident because it was undergoing refueling.

Again, really?

When they remove the fuel rods from the reactor core, they don’t put them in FedEx boxes and ship them to Yucca Mountain. Those rods go to the spent fuel pool on site, which, as we’ve seen is a much more dangerous situation if there is a site blackout compounded by a problem with backup power.
The truth is that utilities and regulators often do not know the full extent of the damage or danger within the first hours and days after a nuclear accident. What they do know is that they want to avoid at all costs a panic among the public in the surrounding area. Panic is never a good thing, but the public does need to know what’s going on.

We may not know for a while how close Oyster Creek and Salem came to Fukushima. From appearances, they made it through the night, but not by much. As Wellington said of Waterloo, “It was a damn close-run thing.” The need for continuous cooling dictates that nuclear plants always be located near some body of water, and the failure to plan for extraordinary weather events, including storm surges, is something that cannot be allowed to continue. Nuclear power should be part of the United States generation portfolio, but the continuing occurrence of events such as Fukushima, Oyster Creek and Salem risks the loss of public trust, which will ultimately foreclose any prospect of a nuclear renaissance.


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