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Black Swan for Oyster Creek?

  1. Aug 25, 2011 #1
    America's oldest NPP, a BWR/2 MK-1, is in the direct path of Hurricane Irene.

    The major forecast models are in good agreement on the track:

    [PLAIN]http://icons.wunderground.com/data/images/at201109_model.gif [Broken]

    Additionally the ECMWF - which has the best record on track this year - shows the exact same track - but with a deeper storm.

    Models for hurricane tracks are becoming more accurate every year, however intensity forecasts are still not accurate enough - with a 30mph error margin at 72hrs. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/verification/pdfs/Verification_2010.pdf" [Broken]

    Irene could be anything from a cat 1 to a cat 4 nearing New Jersey - most likely a cat 2.

    Oyster Creek is 23 feet above sea level and a cat 4 as large as Irene would inundate the site.

    There is at least a 1% chance of serious flooding at Oyster Creek - I hope the diesel generators are well protected.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2011 #2


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    Indian Point is also directly (and I mean DIRECTLY) in the path.

    What a year.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  4. Aug 30, 2011 #3
    I'm an electronic engineer, not a nuclear engineer, and having just discovered this thread courtesy of the Great Google I have a dumb noob question.

    I was somewhat perturbed to http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/25/us-storm-irene-energy-idUSTRE77O6HI20110825" [Broken] that Brunswick "is built to withstand winds of 128 miles per hour". I was idly wondering what might happen if winds of, say, 130 mph suddenly arrived in the vicinity. Is there any truth in Reuters' rumour, and if so where would you recommend I go to check their facts?



    P.S. Oyster Creek was shut down, presumably for the reason you describe. Why not Brunswick? Is "22 feet above sea level" more than sufficient?
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  5. Aug 30, 2011 #4


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    Since you are an electronics engineer, are not "safety margins" also "de riguer" in eletrical engineering?

    I believe they are. I'm an audiophile and read the reviews / test of audio equipment. When a manufacturer rates an amplifier as being able to deliver 100 watts without clipping, when the audio magazines do their review, they will drive the amp until it clips. It doesn't clip at 101 watts, it clips at 150 watts, or 200 watts....

    Aeronautical engineers also use safety factors. If the aeronautical engineer calculates that an airliner in flight will experience a loading of 'X' Newtons on the wing during severe turbulence, then the wing will be designed to withstand 2X Newtons, or 2.5X Newtons.

    Or take suspension bridge designers. In 1947, the original Tacoma Narrows bridge, aka "Galloping Gerty" collapsed due to wind loading. A few years later when the State of Michigan wanted to build a bridge to span the Straits of Mackinac, the designer of the Mackinac Bridge took the lessons of Tacoma Narrows to heart. Although the greatest wind speeds recorded in the Straits of Mackinac were about 125 mph, the designer of Mackinac Bridge, an engineer named David B. Steinman; designed the Mackinac Bridge to withstand winds of 600+ mph.
    The specs were for 125 mph, and Steinman chose to meet that spec with a bridge that can withstand 600+ mph.

    Likewise, with nuclear power plants. In fact, the safety factors are generally greater than those used by the aeronautical engineers and bridge designers.

    A nuclear power plant that is designed for 128 mph winds will do just fine at 130 mph.

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  6. Aug 30, 2011 #5


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    The Brunswick units were reduced in power due to the hurricane.

    Oyster Creek restarted Aug 28 after the hurricane had passed by.

    Indian Point remained at power.

    Folks may wish to save figures of hurricane tracks on the day they are viewed. The linked figure is updated, as of Aug 30 shows the tropical storm moving off through Maine/Quebec.

    The hurricane stayed Cat 1 from NC to NJ. They eye stayed mostly over land along the coast. Dry winds were coming in from the NW, and the jet stream imposed a favorable shear such that IRENE did not strengthen, but stayed a weak Cat 1. We were very fortunate.
  7. Aug 30, 2011 #6
    @Morbius - I am familiar with the concept of safety margins, and I assume nuclear engineers use pretty wide ones. I was enquiring (perhaps too obliquely?) about where I might be able to find some in depth reading on the topic.

    How would Brunswick or Oyster Creek fare in a Cat 4 or 5 "storm in a teacup" for example? The original post suggested not terribly well.

    @Astronuc - We were certainly very fortunate that Irene was no stronger. I get the impression that if it had been the reactors in question might have tested their safety margins, but it is only an impression (and based on remarkably scant knowledge!). Hence my enquiry.


  8. Aug 30, 2011 #7
    I don't seem to be able to edit my opening post, so for posterity, Irene's actual track is below:

    She hit N.J. as a cat 1 - all the respected models overdid the intensity, but were extremely accurate on track

    A cat 4 or higher would have been horrific for the North East, and IMO, at least a couple of Nuclear Plants.

    I woul love to see these older plants decommissioned and their re-racked spent fuel pools emptied.

  9. Aug 30, 2011 #8


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    Oyster Creek will close in 2019, 10 years earlier than the recent license extension allows.

    IP plans continued operation, and some fuel has been moved to dry storage. It still doesn't have a place to go. The site has two PWRs which are housed in reinforced concrete containments. PWRs generally have a stronger containment system than the earlier BWRs.
  10. Aug 30, 2011 #9

    jim hardy

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    Not to minimize your concern, but -

    It's hard for me to imagine a windstorm hurting a plant . The plant is heavy steel machinery surrounded by reinforced concrete. Some plants have a metal building of heavy sheet metal surrounding the turbine, even if that shed its skin it wouldn't hurt much.

    The surrounding buildings might be affected of course they're mostly just commercial structires.
    Hurricane Andrew blew down our fence, blew down all the incoming power lines, wrecked rooftop air conditioners, tore up office buildings and the spare parts warehouse.
    Gravel blown from office building roof peppered the turbine and broke the glass out of quite a few gages. Pieces of asphalt roofing were imbedded in pipe insulation like spear points. Cars were upside down in parking lot. A water tower fell down and broke some stuff in water treatment area. But the plant was fine.

    If you keep diesels and abiity to pump cooling water you'll be fine even it the plant is covered with pieces of nearby buildings. Flooding would be my worry in terrain that's not flat.

    Andrew i personally believe was a 200 mph storm.. I base that on an unofficial survey of tree and roof damage made by some old retired meteorologists from the area. They had experienced a 1946 storm that registered 200mph on anemometers at a nearby airbase. So it's hearsay but with a tinge of credibility.

    old jim
  11. Aug 31, 2011 #10
    Hi Jim,

    As my moniker might suggest, I personally am more concerned with the storm surge than the "128 mph" winds themselves.

    Many moons ago I was involved in slightly secret research which relied upon the fact that submarines that wished to escape detection could turn off most things. However it wasn't a terribly cunning plan to turn off the pumps that kept things cool in the nuclear department.

    I am still curious about why Reuters mentioned the "wind" but not the "waves" when discussing nuclear reactors. They did say that "Jeff Masters of private forecaster Weather Underground warned of potential storm surges that could flood coastal areas of New Jersey and Maryland" however.


    Middle aged Jim
  12. Aug 31, 2011 #11
    This site will help you calculate potential storm surge for anywhere on the East Coast:

    My understanding is that a cat 4 or cat 5 = TROUBLE!

  13. Aug 31, 2011 #12


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    Is it possible for a hurricane to make landfall in the northeast at Cat4? Has it ever happened?
  14. Aug 31, 2011 #13


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    yes. Earliest records only go back to colonial times, but several storms have been (3+)possible cat 4 or 5. See pre-colonial, 1635, 1938

  15. Aug 31, 2011 #14


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    The "LI Express" storm of '38 supposedly had Cat 3 winds when it hit Long Island, so obviously that's possible.

    It got sucked into a deep trough, picked up gigantic speed, and flew north at close to 70 mph, gliding quickly up the coast before it had a chance to lose much strength.

    So, it may take fairly freakish conditions for a storm of that intensity to get this high, but it obviously can and does happen.
    And, there's obviously more energy in the system now than there was then, so it's presumably getting easier.

    But there's clearly a lot more than the Category (the max sustained winds at the center) that goes into determining the destructive power of a storm.
    Irene ended up as significantly below Cat 1 strength by the time it reached here (NY), and it still did a hell of a lot of damage.

    If it had maintained its structural integrity just a little longer, and held its projected strength, and hit here with 100-mph winds, instead of 65, it would've been a HUGE disaster.

    And the idea that those conditions would pose no threat to any of the nuke plants in the path... well, let's just say I remain *extremely* skeptical.
  16. Aug 31, 2011 #15


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    Even Cat 1 hurricanes can be devastating in the NE, as Irene just demonstrated.

    And there was Cat 1 hurricane Agnes in 1972 that caused similar damage in Pa and NY.

    Agnes pretty much destoyed the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Erie-Lackawanna RR, as well heavily damaging the Pennsylvania RR and New York Central RR.
  17. Aug 31, 2011 #16
    Hi Bodge,

    Thanks very much for the extra information, and that is my (limited!) understanding also. However I guess I'm still being overly obscure.

    I've been blogging about hurricanes and their side effects for years, including videos taken from helicopters over places like Gonaive and, more recently, Connecticut.

    My knowledge of nuclear engineering is much more limited however, hence my visit to these hallowed halls. I was hoping someone could point me to an authoritative but not hugely technical introduction to the limitations of early BWRs, that would enlighten me about that side of the equation. Something like "GE Mark I Containment Vessels for Dummies" or "Fukushima Daiichi - Lessons for the US Nuclear Industry".


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