One of my friends from college, who coincidentally also entered the nuclear industry, posted on Facebook Tuesday night: “Earthquake in Virginia 10-20 miles away from nuclear plant, 2 units in SAFE shutdown. Go Nuclear Power!”
On the other hand, someone in the media was talking about a potential “doomsday earthquake-nuclear disaster.”
Both of these comments bother me.
The nuclear industry has a unique responsibility to the public to maintain safety at all times. This is not a victory for the industry. This is our day-to-day job. We will look at what happened in Virginia on Tuesday and make sure that we learn from it to improve our response to the next event.
At the same time, we don’t have to wave our hands in the air and panic. Nuclear energy facilities are some of the most robust designs ever implemented- and we are always improving them. This is an industry that is accountable for safe operation with one of the strongest oversight bodies in the world.
The facility remained safe at all times. It has 5 large, redundant backup diesels on site, of which you really use 4 at a time. One of the initial 4 was removed from service due to a leak and the 5th was subsequently placed into service to replace it. Offsite (grid) power has since been restored, and the plants are cooling down so that further inspections can be performed. This is a standard procedure based on size of earth motion at the site relative to the design. They are monitoring small aftershocks, but they have not been challenged by them.
We, as an industry, have been looking now to further improve our safety margin by implementing diverse safety systems that don’t rely on the traditional large diesels. The lessons we learned from September 11th and Fukushima are important and are continuously being integrated into our plant design and procedures. These improvements aren’t a victory or something to brag about how great we are. They are our job.