Earlier today I got on a scheduled phone call with some of the staff in our D.C. office just after they had come back into their building after evacuating during the 5.8 magnitude Virginia earthquake that rattled buildings and nerves all the way to New York City. They, of course, had more immediate concerns but thoughts for many folks here in the Texas office immediately went to “What nuclear plants are in the area.” And, sure enough, not minutes after I got back to to my desk I found an Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) alert announcing that this earthquake also triggered the shutdown of a nearby nuclear power plant and spurred declarations of “unusual events” at plants as far away as Michigan.
Dominion Virginia Power reported that both reactors at its North Anna plant, less than 20 miles from the epicenter of the magnitude-5.8 quake, shut down after the first tremors and vented steam, but there was no release of radioactive material. Off-site electric power has been interrupted, but right now, the operator is reporting that the plant is operating on emergency power and the units were safely deactivated.
North Anna’s operators were preparing to manually shut down the units after the quake when the power station’s operating system automatically powered down both units when off-site power was lost.
The plant has four diesel generators supplying backup power and those generators have three days of fuel. However, off-site electric power was expected to be restored later today.
The plant ran on emergency diesel generating power overnight and off-site power was restored today, August 24th.
The North Anna plant is about 50 miles northwest of Richmond and about 90 miles southwest of Washington. Operators declared an alert — the second-lowest level of emergency reporting under U.S. nuclear regulations — after the quake struck shortly before 2 p.m., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
Twelve other plants in six states issued an “unusual event” declaration, the lowest level of emergency notice, according to the NRC. They included the Shearon Harris plant in North Carolina; the Calvert Cliffs plant in Maryland; Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna, Three Mile Island, Limerick and Peach Bottom plants; the Oyster Creek, Hope Creek and Salem plants in New Jersey; and the D.C. Cook and Palisades plants in Michigan. All of these plants are continuing to operate, but plant personnel are examining the sites for any damage or problems.
Let’s hope they get everything squared away before Irene hits somewhere along the eastern seaboard in the next 4 to 5 days. One track show it coming into the Washington, DC area still as a Category 1 hurricane.