Hurricane Arthur moved north along the U.S. East Coast on the 4th of July, forcing tourists to reschedule holiday plans and many towns to reschedule parades and fireworks. Arthur brought high winds, heavy rain, flooding, high seas and dangerous surf, and strong rip currents to Southern New England – most of these conditions raise serious concerns for the coastally-located Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. Learn why here >>
There were some power outages throughout the state, including in Plymouth (see Figure 1). Pilgrim did not lose power, according to the NRC’s online Power Reactor Status Report, and operated at 100% throughout the storm.When Pilgrim shuts down due to loss of offsite power during storms (as it has many times in the past), it is cause for serious concern. The nuclear facility needs off-site electricity to operate pumps that cool the reactor and circulate the water in the spent fuel pool to heat exchangers). Failed pumps due to prolonged power loss could cause the reactor to overheat or the water in the spent fuel pool to boil and evaporate, exposing the highly radioactive fuel rods to air. Both situations could lead to fire and explosions and radioactive release.
Hurricane Arthur made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane late on Thursday, July 3rd. By the time it reached Massachusetts on July 4th, it had become a Category 1 hurricane (category 1 storms are defined as those with winds that reach 74 mph). A tropical storm warning was issued for Cape Cod Bay and the Plymouth shoreline (see Figure 2 below). Sustained wind gusts in the Plymouth area were 25-45mph during the storm, while the highest gusts were reported on Nantucket (63mph) (see Figure 3 below).
A flood advisory was issued for eastern Plymouth County and a flash flood emergency was issued for parts of south coastal Massachusetts through late in the day on July 4th (see Figure 4 below). The worst of the storm conditions for Southeastern Massachusetts occurred Friday evening and diminished overnight. High tide occurred at approximately 5:15pm (a slightly below average high tide of 9.5 feet), overlapping with the worst of the storm conditions. When high tides occur at the same time as a storm, this increases the severity of storm surge and flooding along the coast – and therefore the risks posed by Pilgrim’s operations. Read more about this effect >>
We dodged a bullet this time, but we may not be so lucky in the future. The force and size of storms are increasing due in part by climate change. The same goes for rising sea levels and higher storm surges. These climate change patterns could have devastating consequences on the coastally-located Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station during future hurricanes. Even more than hurricanes, nor’easters are of great concern because Pilgrim faces northeast and is not protected by any land mass in that direction.
To date, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not forcing Pilgrim to assess their vulnerably to storms and sea level rise – we think this is a serious problem. We will continue to stay vigilant and track conditions of storms and their impacts to the Pilgrim facility in the future. We hope you do too.