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Heavy rains have brought historic floods to the St. Louis region on the eve of the New Year, causing the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to overflow.
The high water levels are traveling south, potentially bringing major flooding to Mississippi and Louisiana. That raises the question about the safety of the nuclear power plants located in the vicinity of the floods.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is closely watching the situation, but the nuclear watchdog said that it does not expect the floods to adversely affect any of the plants. In a January 5 update, the NRC ran through some of the specific reactors located in the flooding zone.
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Nebraska has the Fort Calhoun and Cooper power plants, and the NRC says the Missouri River probably won’t be high enough to force the plants to take protective measures. The same is true for the Callaway plant in Missouri.
The Mississippi River is expected to crest on January 15 in Mississippi, but the Grand Gulf Station in the state shouldn’t be affected. Louisiana’s River Bend and Waterford Stations should also be in the clear. All three of these plants are operated by Entergy.
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After the Fukushima meltdown in Japan, the U.S. tightened safety requirements on nuclear power plants. Each plant is required to prove that it can withstand extreme flooding and shut down safely if it needs to. The plants have back up diesel generators to ensure no interruption of electric power to keep the plant cool occurs.
But the latest floods could be harbinger of greater risks in the future if flooding worsens with climate change. Nuclear power plants are intentionally cited near bodies of water, such as rivers or the ocean, because of large reactor cooling needs. In the past, power plants have been forced to shut down during severe storms, including reactors in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in the early 1990s.
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Sea level rise will also present threats to a handful of plants located along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf Coast. The industry and the NRC are confident that the nation’s nuclear power plants can withstand severe storms and other flood risks. The nuclear industry is in the process of implementing a strategy its calls FLEX, which encompasses stationing vital emergency equipment, including generates and backup power, in multiple locations so that it can be deployed to plants in need during emergency events.
By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com