Hurricane Irene took a path up the east coast of the United States that put a large population at risk from heavy rains, storm surges, and high winds. Before the storm there were stories about the fact that among all of the other parts of the infrastructure that might be affected, there were a number of nuclear power stations. The implication in several of the stories was that these structures were uniquely vulnerable to the potential for a loss of power or to wind damage.
People who have any experience or knowledge of the nuclear industry know that nuclear plant operators take storms quite seriously and make preparations years to decades in advance to ensure that the plants ride through nearly anything that nature can throw at them. Nukes do not take storms for granted, but we are pretty confident that the combination of good design, excellent training, careful preparation, and redundant back-up power systems will ensure that the public is never harmed by any impact that might be felt at the plant when it is attacked by a storm.
Even though Irene took a path that gave it at least 18 opportunities to damage nuclear facilities, the good news is that the quiet confidence was well-placed. With the exception of a large piece of aluminum siding that was peeled off a building and thrown into the switchyard for Calvert Cliffs Unit 1, none of the nuclear units were forced off line by the effects of the hurricane. There was no damage to any safety related equipment.
During the storm, a number of the companies who operate those nuclear plants took advantage of social media tools to keep the public informed about their preparations and the condition of the plants.
On August 28, 2011, after the storm had made its way up the east coast and was at the Maine-Canada border, I gathered a group of four nuclear communicators to discuss lessons learned or relearned from the event. I hope you enjoy the show.
Margaret Harding, an independent consultant who blogs at 4Factor Consulting
Mimi Limbach, a partner at Potomac Communications Group
April Schilpp, the senior manager for communications at Exelon Nuclear
Cool Hand Nuke – Hurricane Irene caused no damage to any reactors in its path