Nuclear Plants Eye Rising Mississippi

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 @ 12:05 PM gHale

The Mississippi River is continuing to rise and nuclear power-plant operators are monitoring forecasts and preparing to shut plants later in the month if flooding threatens sites or operation of plant safety systems, one regulator said.

High water should not disrupt operations at nuclear plants located along rivers in the Midwest, but Entergy Corp officials are preparing for high water at three reactor sites along the Mississippi River from near Vicksburg, MS, to New Orleans, a company spokesman said.

Entergy’s 1,268-megawatt Grand Gulf nuclear station in Claiborne County, MS, may be the most vulnerable, officials said, based on government forecasts for the river to reach a high of 57.5 feet (17.5 meters) on May 20, some 14 feet above flood stage.

“We do not expect the plant to shut down if the flooding is not above current projections,” said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regional office near Dallas.

However, high water could cut off access on the main road to the plant, forcing emergency vehicles to take a longer route, he said.

If river conditions worsen, the plants will shut the reactors down ahead of time, Dricks said.

Operators are making plans to shut the plants, if necessary, and preparing back-up diesel generators and batteries used to keep emergency cooling systems running in the event of a loss of off-site power.

The forecast is for the Mississippi River to crest near Entergy’s 978-MW River Bend nuclear plant in West Feliciana Parish, LA, May 23, the National Weather Service said.

Entergy’s 1,176-MW Waterford nuclear plant in St. Charles Parish, LA, should complete a month-long refueling outage in the next week or so, before Mississippi River floodwaters peak May 24. Waterford is behind a 29-foot seawall.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway not far from the Waterford site to allow Mississippi River water to flow to Lake Pontchartrain.

Dricks said the NRC was also monitoring water levels on Missouri and Arkansas rivers, but saw no flooding at Entergy’s 1,838-MW Arkansas Nuclear One station in Pope County, AK; the Nebraska Public Power District’s 770-MW Cooper station in Nemaha, NB; or the 478-MW Fort Calhoun nuclear station in Washington County, NB.

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