Sandy Shutdowns Lower Nuclear Output by Most Since 2003

Sandy Shutdowns Spur Biggest Nuclear Output Loss Since 2003
A view of Constellation Energy Group Inc.'s Nine Mile Point nuclear station in Scriba, New York. Source: Constellation Energy Group Inc. via Bloomberg

Hurricane Sandy shut down at least three nuclear reactors in the Northeastern region, sending U.S. nuclear-power output lower by the most since 2003.

Generation nationwide declined by 6.4 percent to 69,640 megawatts, or 68 percent of capacity, the biggest slide since Aug. 15, 2003, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission data compiled by Bloomberg. Output was 17 percent lower than a year ago with 28 of 104 nuclear reactors offline.

Sandy, the Atlantic superstorm that came ashore in southern New Jersey late yesterday and blacked out southern Manhattan, shut Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point 3 reactor, Constellation Energy Group Inc.’s Nine Mile Point Unit 1 and Public Service Enterprise Group’s Salem 1 plant. With a combined capacity of 2,820 megawatts, the units account for about 11 percent of the total in the Northeast.

Indian Point 3 and Nine Mile 1 are in New York, while Salem is situated in New Jersey.

The 1,025-megawatt Indian Point 3, located about 27 miles (43 kilometers) north of New York City, tripped offline at 10:41 p.m. yesterday when the connection between a generator on site and another off site was lost, according to a company statement. Indian Point 2 continued to operate at full power.

Electrical Disturbance

“If the generator has no place to send its power, it shuts down automatically and by design to protect itself from electrical damage,” Jerry Nappi, an Entergy Corp. spokesman based at the plant, said in an e-mail today. “At Indian Point yesterday, the river level and wind had no impact on plant operation. There were also no issues with debris in the river.”

Nine Mile Point 1, a 621-megawatt reactor near Oswego, New York, was automatically shut down when a lightning pole was blown over into electrical components, Jill Lyon, a Constellation spokeswoman, said by phone today.

Off-site power was restored at about 3:30 a.m., though Unit 1 still remains offline, she said. There is no timeline for restart and Unit 2 is operating at 100 percent of capacity.

Public Service manually closed its 1,174-megawatt Salem 1 reactor near Wilmington, Delaware, when four of the station’s six water circulating pumps became unavailable because of the storm, Joe Delmar, a company spokesman, said today. The circulating pumps use the Delaware Bay/River to condense steam.

There is no estimated time for restart of Unit 1, Delmar said, noting that Unit 2 is offline for refueling. Public Service suspended all refueling work on Oct. 28 as Hurricane Sandy approached the U.S. East Coast.

‘Biggest Challenge’

“The biggest challenge overnight was waves hitting the circulating water systems at both stations,” Delmar said in an e-mail responding to questions today. There was “lots of river grass and debris,” he said.

The 1,061-megawatt Hope Creek 1 unit, also operated by Public Service and located near Wilmington, is stable and operating at full power, Delmar said.

The three shutdowns were the biggest declines in nuclear power in the Northeastern region, where generation dropped 24 percent to 13,835 megawatts, according to commission data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the region’s lowest production level since 1998 as nine reactors are offline.

Oyster Creek

The nation’s oldest nuclear plant, Exelon Corp.’s Oyster Creek facility in New Jersey, is still in “alert” mode because of elevated levels of water flow into the water-intake structure, according to an NRC report. Levels reached above 6-feet late yesterday and peaked at 7.4 feet early today.

There has been no change in production at the unit, which shut last week for refueling and maintenance. It’s located near Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Exelon’s Limerick units 1 and 2 in Pennsylvania cut power to 48 percent and 27 percent, respectively, according to commission data. Both units ran at full power yesterday.

“Power was reduced to accommodate an expected drop in atmospheric pressure brought on by the storm and to offset some temporary transmission line losses,” Dana Melia, a company spokeswoman for the plant, said in an e-mail. “Both have been corrected and we plan to begin power ascension shortly.”

Regional Output

Output in the Midwestern region dropped 2.8 percent to 18,037 megawatts, while output in the Southeastern area rose to 23,807 megawatts. Western generation was unchanged.

American Electric Power Co. reduced the 1,009 Cook 1 reactor in Michigan to 55 percent of power from 100 percent yesterday. The reactor is about 26 miles northwest of South Bend, Indiana.

Tennessee Valley Authority boosted its 1,123-megawatt Watts Bar 1 facility to 29 percent of capacity from 15 percent yesterday. The unit is accelerating to full power after completing a refueling outage, according to Ray Golden, a company spokesman based in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Reactor maintenance shutdowns, usually undertaken in the U.S. spring or fall when energy use is lowest, can increase consumption of natural gas and coal to generate electricity. The average refueling down time was 43 days in 2011, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

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