Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Great East Coast Earthquake of 2011


By Norris McDonald

My house was shaking like crazy today a little before 2 p.m.  I work from home just as much as I can.  Reduces my carbon footprint.  That was one of the weirdest 25 seconds in recent memory.  We don't have earthquakes on the east coast.  I think the last one of this magnitude was in the late 19th Century.  Anyway, thank God it was mild and there was very little damage and no deaths.

Norris McDonald at North Anna nuclear plant
But the media turned to nuclear power plants and many of the reports were not very positive.  Unfortunate, since the 5.9 earthquake proved that nuclear power plants on the east coast performed just fine.  Nuke plants are designed to survive earthquakes and will automatically shut down (SCRAM) if adequately distrubed.

Fate put the epicenter of the earthquake at the doorstep of the North Anna nuclear power plant near Mineral, Virgina.  There were reports that 1 of 4 of the backup generators did not work, while power was reported to be out at the facility.  Yet the facility performed just fine.  I visited North Anna in 2005.  I will sleep better tonight knowing that although we might get aftershocks, our nuclear fleet is perfectly prepared to handle earthquakes.

The North Anna nuclear-power station in central Virginia restored off-site power the day after the 5.8-magnitude earthquake, eliminating the need to rely on its back-up generators, according to Dominion Virginia Power representatives. The station's two nuclear reactors shut down following Tuesday's earthquake. The reactors shut down automatically and no damage has been reported. It may be several days before it returns to service.

The company said that four diesel generators supplied power to the station while the off-site power was unavailable. One of the four generators was taken off-line to repair a generator coolant leak, but a fifth generator at the station was activated to replace it until the offsite power was restored. Repairs are complete to the diesel generator.

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, according to 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.

The Indian Point nuclear-power plant north of New York City experienced some minor shaking, but the facility remained online and operated at full power. (WSJ, 8/24/2011, WSJ, 8/24/2011)

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