Hurricane Sandy May Score a Direct Hit On Spent Fuel Pools at Nuclear Plant

George Washington's picture

Preface:  We hope and expect that the severity of the hurricane is being overblown, and that the nuclear plants in the Northeast will ride out the storm without any incident.  

UPDATE: Flooding already reported near Oyster Creek nuclear plant in NJ — Road closed on bay, dune lines breached (PHOTO)

We noted Friday that .

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says that there are actually 26 nuclear plants in the path of the hurricane, and that the spent fuel pools in the plants don't have backup pumps (summary via EneNews):

  • You’ll hear in the next 2 days, “We’ve safely shutdown the plant”
  • What Fukushima taught us is that doesn’t stop the decay heat
  • You need the diesels to keep the reactors cool
  • 26 plants in the East Coast are in the area where Sandy is likely to hit
  • Fuel pools not cooled by diesels, no one wanted to buy them
  • If recent refuel, hot fuel will throw off more and more moisture from pool
  • Reactor buildings not meant to handle the high humidity
  • Fuel pool liner not really designed to approach boiling water, may unzip if water gets too hot
  • A lot of problems with allowing fuel pool to over
  • Need water in around 2 days if hot fuel in pool
  • The only fall-back if power is lost is to let fuel pools heat up

EneNews also reports that the hurricane is forecast to directly hit the Oyster Creek nuclear plant and that - while the plant is currently shut down for refueling - it still might very well have new, very hot fuel in the fuel pools:

Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is located near New Jersey’s shoreline in an area forecast to take a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy: “The current ‘track center’ for the landfall path is central New Jersey pointing Sandy in a path that would hit Oyster Creek nuclear station.” -SimplyInfo


With Oyster Creek shut down for refueling starting last week, hot fuel may have been placed in the fuel pool quite recently.


The unit at Oyster Creek is the same as Fukushima Daiichi No. 1: “Oyster Creek is one of the oldest US nuclear plants and is the same design as Fukushima unit 1.” -SimplyInfo

Remember, Fukushima reactor number 4 was shut down for maintenance when the Japanese earthquake hit.  And yet the fuel pools at reactor 4 are in such precarious condition that they pose a giant threat to humanity.

Hurricane Sandy is not very intense in terms of wind speed.  But the storm is so large - 174 mile diameter of hurricane force winds, surrounded by 1,378 mile diameter of tropical storm force winds -  that storm surges could be 11 feet high.  In the area of Oyster Creek, the storm surge could be the highest ever recorded.

@But the real danger is a power outage. As Gundersen said today:

The biggest problem, as I see it right now, is the Oyster Creek plant, which is on Barnegat Bay in New Jersey. That appears to be right about the center of the storm. Oyster Creek is the same design, but even older than Fukushima Daiichi unit 1. It’s in a refueling outage. That means that all the nuclear fuel is not in the nuclear reactor, but it’s over in the spent fuel pool. And in that condition, there’s no backup power for the spent fuel pools. So, if Oyster Creek were to lose its offsite power—and, frankly, that’s really likely—there would be no way cool that nuclear fuel that’s in the fuel pool until they get the power reestablished. Nuclear fuel pools don’t have to be cooled by diesels per the old Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations. I hope the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changes that and forces the industry to cool its nuclear fuel pools, as well.

This time of year, there’s a lot of power plants in refueling outages. And all of those plants will be in a situation where there’s no fuel in the nuclear reactor; it’s all in the fuel pool. Systems have been shut down to be maintained, including diesels, perhaps even completely dismantled. And in the event that there’s a loss of offsite power from the high winds from this hurricane, we will see the water in the fuel pools begin to heat up.


This isn’t like the Big Bad Wolf. They can huff and puff, and they won’t blow this plant down, especially a hurricane that’s only 85-mile-an-hour winds. It’s not a question of the winds from this hurricane blowing the plant down. It’s a question of the loss of offsite power. That’s exactly what happened after Fukushima Daiichi. The earthquake destroyed the offsite power. At that point, the nuclear plant relies on its diesels. And my big concern is diesel reliability and the fact that nuclear plants don’t have to cool their nuclear fuel pools off their diesels per NRC regulations. I think those are the two big concerns for Hurricane Sandy.

Obviously, the path of the hurricane could veer substantially, and may not hit Oyster Creek after all ... weather forecasting is not an exact science.  But Gundersen argues that nuclear plants in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are in the most danger given current projections.


As we noted Friday, the Salem and Hope Creek plants in New Jersey are also near the path of the hurricane, as are the following plants in Pennsylvania:

  • Peach Bottom
  • Limerick
  • Three Mile Island
  • Susquehanna

Another concern is the Millstone plant in Connecticut:

A mild winter and hot July are cited as reasons water from Long Island Sound has become too warm for Millstone Power Station in Connecticut, a nuclear plant, to use for cooling.

EneNews summarizes the situation in a post entitled "Officials in Connecticut warn of giant 16-foot storm surge, with 15-foot waves on top of that — State’s nuclear plant directly exposed on ocean":

The Hour:

In a message sent to residents Sunday afternoon, [Norwalk, Connecticut] Mayor Richard A. Moccia warned of a 16-foot storm surge brought to land by Hurricane Sandy. [...] “I have declared a state of emergency in the City,” he said. “Coastal flooding from this event will peak at midnight on Monday night and will be worse than any flooding Norwalk has experienced in recent history. If you have ever experienced flooding before it is likely you will be flooded in this storm.” Moccia said that the storm will be equal to a Category 4 hurricane and will produce 16 foot storm surges.

Westport Now:

“The mood during the meeting was tense as federal officials estimated a 13-foot storm surge for Westport  [Connecticut] -– 3 or 4 feet higher that the inundation from Storm Irene last year,” a news release said. “This is an unprecedented storm,” said [First Selectman Gordon Joseloff], following his team’s briefing with federal and state disaster preparedness officials. “This will be a storm of long duration, high winds and record-setting flooding. Take Storm Irene from last year and double it.” he said. [...] The town is bracing for at least three waves of flooding, beginning with the high tide at midnight Sunday, the announcement said. [... An] estimated 15-foot wind-driven waves [...] are expected on top of the storm surge.

According to the Weather Channel’s latest map, a 6 to 11 foot water level rise is forecast for the Connecticut coastline. This is the highest increase of any area in the US. The state’s only nuclear power plant is located directly on the ocean, see marker ‘A’ below:

In July,  AP reported:

Millstone Power Station, Connecticut's sole nuclear plant, is focusing on how best to guard against flooding and earthquakes to comply with tougher federal standards following the nuclear plant meltdown in Japan last year, the new chief of the power station said in an interview.


Millstone is assessing its ability to withstand flooding and "seismic events," Stephen E. Scace, who took over as site vice president at Millstone in January, told The Associated Press on Thursday. He expects upgrades and installation of new equipment in the next three to four years.

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CitizenPete's picture

Most units do NOT conduct a full offload of fuel from the reactor.  This is only done if some sort of cleaning or inspection procedure requires it.  Typically operators and contractors swap or move fuel bundles in/out of the reactor. 

The loss of grid power and flooding of Diesel Generators are a possible issue in my mind if units are in outage. 

For those interested, the outage schedules for nukes are posted on :

You will see Oyster Creek shutdown on 10/22.

Fix It Again Timmy's picture

Well, thank god,  we are spending billions of dollars monthly to protect America from Afghan tribesmen rather than wasting billions on building a robust infrastructure....

Parrotile's picture

There seems to be three major problems here, all weather related.

1. Rainfall / Tidal surge: Apart from the obvious (flooding), and the equally obvious (conductive water and EHV installations tend not to mix well . . .) there is also the often overlooked problem of ground softening:

2. Wind: The buiildings / infrastrucuture are designed to tolerate significant wind loads, but are they designed to tolerate repeat impacts from high-mass flying objects (as is often the case in hurricanes), particularly exposed but critical elements (pipework, busbars, HV bushings etc.)

3. A case of 1+2 - winds + softened soil = higher rates of treefall, which also leads to higher rates of flying debris. What will this do to the distribution and bulk transmission systems?

The regulations for operating all US Nuclear Plants mandate the availability of multiple sources of external power. By Law, if the sources of external power fail, the plant must be shut down. Consequential loss of generating capacity = frequency / voltage sags = operation of automated protection systems = cascade collapse (as has happened numerous times in the past).

On top of this there's a probability that significant infrastructure attrition may impair the operation of protection systems, and this may lead to failure of critical infrastructure (EHV side transmission componebts including switches, transformers, VAR compensation hardware (inductors / capacitor banks), all of which will be difficult to replace in a timely fashion, just as the Northern Hemisphere winter is approaching (with commensurate high demand on the power grid nationwide).

The USA no longer manufactures bulk EHV (>400kV, >1200MVA) transformers: the lead time for a replacement is 18 months - 2 years (planned replacement) and there are about 2000 of these monsters in the US Grid system, with few, if any spares. Same goes for many other EHV high-power elements. Nothing "off the shelf", nothing with "short" lead times.

Another example of the short-termist, "offshore all manufacture" mentality. Profit today, let future generations reap the consequences . . . . . .

New_Meat's picture

I'd suggest that you learn about "machine island".

And good  points on the lack of main transformers.  Blame the tax laws on that one.

- Ned

Zero Govt's picture

"Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says that there are actually 26 nuclear plants in the path of the hurricane... Gundersen argues that nuclear plants in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are in the most danger.."


Looking at the 2 above photos these nuclear plants both appear to have a bit more margin of error than New Yorks pitiful 5 foot sea wall and Fukinshambles equally pitiful defensive sea wall

Fingers crossed (sincerely) Govt stroke public-private sector ineptness is not exposed on this occasion

gasmiinder's picture

Better evacuate the East Coast GW!

Don't know where you're going to send em though since the Gulf Coast was rendered unfit for human habitation during Macondo! And the West Coast is now in dire danger from Fukushima!

We're all gonna die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

New_Meat's picture

GW, this might be a little bit too technical for ya, but whatever.

Spent fuel pools are swimming pools.  Just deeper to keep the blue glow from messin' with ya.  The amount of decay heat is skosh' even with a hot reload.  How little?  Mostly even a garden hose can keep up. 

So there is decay heat in the reactor (where RCIC couldn't keep up at Fukushima Dai-ichi) that is of concern, and there is hot fuel in the pool, where the garden hose (OK, it might be a water tanker truck that is uesd to fill up swimming pools) would be needed.

You are correct, though, that Peach Bottom and Limerick are four BWR units that are old enough to match up with the earlier Mk I containments, I'll check on that to be sure.

TMI-1 is on a river, so plenty of water for the pool.

As for OC, you cite Gunderson, viz:

"That means that all the nuclear fuel is not in the nuclear reactor, but it’s over in the spent fuel pool. And in that condition, there’s no backup power for the spent fuel pools. So, if Oyster Creek were to lose its offsite power—and, frankly, that’s really likely—there would be no way cool that nuclear fuel that’s in the fuel pool until they get the power reestablished. Nuclear fuel pools don’t have to be cooled by diesels per the old Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations. I hope the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changes that and forces the industry to cool its nuclear fuel pools, as well."

... errrr ... the SFP is cooled the old fashioned way.  The water heats up.  You could look it up, but since you didn't evidence that capability, I'm gonna' do it for your readers.  I doubt that you'd understand the technical depths of this situation.


- Ned


Parrotile's picture

So by your estimation it'll all be great.

How much of the infrastructure is designed to operate under full immersion (and that includes the 3-phase electric pumps providing water circulation, and all the very sensitive electronic systems that are critical to reactor safety - otherwise if they were not critical, they would certainly not invest in them, would they).

The buildings may be strongly built, but they were not designed to be watertight to any significant head of water. It'll be interesting to see how the plants operate under sudden disconnection of (grid) load should that occur, with compromised SCADA architecture, and a consequential turbine overspeed potential.

Hopefully all will be well, buy the conseqences of even a minor failure in a very finely balanced system (forced to operate at very near maximal capacity for "Profit and Economy" reasons), might be quite surprising.

New_Meat's picture


"So by your estimation it'll all be great."

No, by great effort and analysis, and planning in the zone that GW can't imagine (nor you, evidently) and the fact that you don't know stuff about what happens when the unit trips.

I'd refer you to the SRP at  It's title is NUREG-0800.  Knock your socks off.

But this situation isn't "Hope isn't a strategy"  It is design basis response.

You have no evidence on the "very finely balanced system" nor design margin nor stuff.

evidently, you will be surprised.

- Ned

LFMayor's picture

We can only hope that they seed contrails with nuetron absobers to mitigate the exposure.

Fix It Again Timmy's picture

EVERY used fuel rod should have been tucked away in Yucca Mountain - not to have done this, is a crime against humanity.  We may dodge this, but from now on,  if EVERY fuel rod is not safely stored away, the only buffer preventing disaster is circulating water.  Will we ever learn?

JohnFrodo's picture

The best solution I have heard is using the spent rods as fuel in advanced reactors. The end product is much less toxic when it is depleted.

JosephConrad's picture

Nuclaer facility construction, inspection and regulation is a job in the U.S. - just like its Elections system what with E-Voting Machines of every variety. American citizens ar totally ignorant, oblivious an uninfomd on both issues. eh consequenc is a total CODIFICATION of the loss of Constitutional Rights that started under Reagan, the Bushs & Obama. we are a THIRD WORLD NATION dying of PRIDE & STUPIDITY!  

Matt's picture

I'm not sure, but I think the rods have to cool down in fuel ponds for several years before they can be safely moved and stored in dry casks. The rods that would be in permanent dry storage are not the ones that are going to boil off the water in the fuel ponds; however, their prescence does increase the storage density, which is why circulation is needed at all.

Everyman's picture

True, but the problem is that all those fuel rods that have "cooled down" are still there, meaning a larger hazard.  They can cool pretty quickly, and not "years".  The casks for transport are built for "hot fuel" as well.

kaiserhoff's picture

The storm is moving through much faster than expected.   Another noisy nothing burger from George.

George Washington's picture

Friends, I'm too busy at my day job to do a liveblog on this.

But the pics show some coastal flooding already happening before the storm has even hit.

Hopefully no nuclear problems, but to our friends in the NE: Be safe ...

Everyman's picture

There is a place to lay blame but it is NOT with the Nuclear Power Generation industry, it is with ...

SENATOR HARRY FUCKING REID.  He has blocked all efforts to commission Yucca Mountian, the safest place to have nuke waste stored.  Nevada has taken BILLIONS of federal dollars to develope that fucking place, and NOW it comes time to use it Harry Fucking Reid blocks all attempts to use this taxpayer funded storage site.  So after BILLIONS of taxpayer dollars, now we can't use the fucking place.    So we have to store it at the powerplants in unsecured arees.

Thanks Harry you fucking asshole, you need a .357 self inflected lobotomy!  If that crap gets loose, Harry Reid should be up on criminal charges for preventions of emplementation of federal mandated law.

XenOrbitalEnginE's picture

Texas is far more useless than Nevada.  It gobbles up more Federal money than it produces.  Pollution should get what pollution deserves!



kaiserhoff's picture

Well said.  Years of planning, billions of taxpayer money, all wasted without any rational alternative whatsoever.

Fix It Again Timmy's picture

In Atlanta, Ga. the wind is gusting very strongly - Ms. Sandy is no joke....

W10321303's picture

Do the Sociopath speculators all get drunk and party for the next two days OR do they have to worry about 'their' real estate on Long Island this time?

Now that ocean temperatures are 30% warmer in the past century, do they continue the Hurricane 'partys' as a new national holiday OR will they all just move to Chicago?

kaiserhoff's picture

Oceans are 30% warmer...,   Hmmmm.

Do you play poker, son?  We got a friendly little game at my place, and we've get a seat reserved...

Matt's picture

30% warmer, based on what? if you set a baseline of 10 Celsius, and the water increases in temperature from 20 degrees to 23 degrees, I guess that makes a 30 percent increase.

If you look at the water temperature in Kelvin, an increase from 293 degrees to 296 degrees, the change is much smaller.

willwork4food's picture

Long Bears Tickets! Go Bears!!!

orez65's picture

What a bunch of bull shit!

I live is Southeast Florida, a Category 1 hurricane is a pussy.

You fuckhead liberals should worry more about the Federal Reserve counterfeiting US dollars than this bull shit hurricane.

Augustus's picture

That is about what I've been thinking.  A Cat 1 storm should not be such a big deal.  The New Yawkers are treating this as the end of the world. 

What actions are being taken to preserve some breeding stock to restore the lost subway rats?

New_Meat's picture

Non-swimming rats die.  Swimming rats (of the Wall Street variety as well) have the skills to, ... er ... swim out and survive.  This is the way that the breeds are strengthened.

But these are the facts of life.

Gotta' wonder how Mayor Boomberg is going to take care of his families, since he is taking over control of their lives.  But, in extremis, we'll see how the maya' does.

- Ned

waterwitch's picture

Will any terrorist groups take credit for any mayhem to the U.S.?

New_Meat's picture

Actually, someone stole the keys to the "Haliburton Hurricane Machine" and is steering this storm as we watch.  - Ned

walcott's picture

How to prevent a Nuclear holocaust. Nuke yourself slowly.

Matt's picture

Adapt an immunity to radiation? Brilliant! Works the same as Iocane Powder, right?


walcott's picture

Prep for tumors.

petolo's picture

I'm already; just shaved with my Bosch razor and used lots of that Gilette deoderant shit.

dark pools of soros's picture

I live a few towns away from Limerick.. I assure you that no one ever goes to Limerick. Not even a hurricane

Rustysilver's picture

Millstone in CT is running at 75% capacity. We beyond safe.

lolmao500's picture

Krugman is gonna LOVE THIS... can you imagine the stimulus needed to fix this??? TRILLIONS MORTIMER!! TRILLIONS!!

Fix It Again Timmy's picture

Fuel pools vs. gene pools.  Guess who loses.....?

GoldbugVariation's picture

A basic point, it's when the storm knocks out the power lines leading to the plants that you have a problem.  If the plant is also shut down - either for maintenance or for safety reasons - then there is no electricity to work the pumps.  And no diesel backup.

But, it's not an earthquake situation like Fukushima, so there should be no cracking to the buildings themselves.  The pools are good until the run out of water / boil dry.  And there won't be a radiation risk, so should be no problem bringing in necessary diesel generators by ship / helicopter.

Assuming that the people in charge make the right decisions in a timely manner, and that there are enough accessible diesel generators good to go.

As its the pragmatic USA we are talking about here, not Japan with a head-in-the-sand management culture, I'm optimistic.

JohnFrodo's picture

Anyone who lives gets a bonus

MsCreant's picture

Are there enough immigrant workers in the area? Americans won't do the work. Too hard!

New_Meat's picture

awww, Ms. you are so cynical. - Ned

bunnyswanson's picture

Americans won't do the work for pennies.  Illegal workers and scab workers can always be found.  Then, because they realize you have paid them a fraction of what their work was worth, they'll return at some point and rob the place. 

odatruf's picture

OMG, the storm is also going to pass over the Statue of Liberty!  Al-Qaeda is winning!!!