At least twelve operating nuclear reactors are in the predicted path of Hurricane Florence, which has been upgraded to a category 4 storm as it surges toward the U.S. East Coast. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which offers an interactive map of active nuclear reactors, two plants are vulnerable to both heavy rainfall and the expected storm surge which could bring a surge of up to 20 feet of ocean water pouring into coastal areas.
Those two reactors, located NE of Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, are known as “Brunswick Steam Electric Plant, Unit 1” and “Brunswick Steam Electric Plant, Unit 1.”
Each unit produces nearly 1,000 MWe of electricity, and they are both built on the General Electric “Type 4” power plant design, which is almost identical to the GE nuclear power plant design used in the Fukushima-Daiichi reactors in Japan. All of these reactors are designed and constructed as “boiling-water reactors” or BWRs. The designs are decades old, and they are subject to catastrophic failures and even core meltdowns that release radioactive isotopes directly into the atmosphere and surrounding areas.
According to current forecasts, these nuclear power plants appear to be in the direct line of Hurricane Florence. Here’s the current forecast from the NOAA, which brings the hurricane directly into North Carolina’s coastline:
The Brunswick plant is a “Boiling Water Reactor” just like Fukushima
As this link from the U.S. NRC shows, the Brunswick Steam Electric Plant, Unit 1 is also a “Boiling Water Reactor.” It was originally authorized for operation in 1976 and it licensed to continue operating through 2036. The following diagram shows how BWRs operate, using heat from the nuclear reactions to turn water into steam that drives steam turbines which generate electricity:
Boiling Water Reactor plants must sit at low elevation near rivers or lakes in order to have access to cooling water
BWR nuclear power plants rely on cooling designs that use large bodies of local water (rivers or lakes) to transfer heat from the nuclear power plant to the atmosphere. This heat transfer is necessary to prevent nuclear fuel rods from overheating and melting down in a runaway nuclear reaction. Importantly, this cooling operation relies on electricity to run the cooling pumps that circulate the water.
For this reason, U.S. nuclear power plants are equipped with multiple redundant cooling systems and backup generators that can run the pumps even if the local power grid is cut off. At the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power facility, both backup diesel generators and battery power systems were present.
You might wonder, then, how the electricity failed on all accounts, causing the cooling pumps to stop operating, ultimately leading to “criticality” of the fuel rods — i.e. a meltdown. (For the record, the entire U.S. media lied about the Fukushima meltdown, claiming no meltdown had occurred. Only now, years later, does the media admit a nuclear meltdown took place. But in their original reporting, they universally claimed there was no meltdown. Just another example of how the media relentlessly lies about everything, not just politics.)
The answer is found in the storm surge — a massive wave of ocean water that swept through the Fukushima facility, drowning the diesel generators, coolant pumps and backup batteries. In effect, Fukushima was inundated with ocean water, and everything stopped functioning. But the physics of the fuel rods was still operating, and you can’t stop fission reactions just by hoping and wishing. So the fuel rods melted down and a nuclear meltdown took place, producing the Fukushima catastrophe we’re all still suffering under today.
As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission explains on this page:
The reactor’s core contains fuel assemblies that are cooled by water circulated using electrically powered pumps. These pumps and other operating systems in the plant receive their power from the electrical grid. If offsite power is lost, emergency cooling water is supplied by other pumps, which can be powered by onsite diesel generators. Other safety systems, such as the containment cooling system, also need electric power. BWRs contain between 370-800 fuel assemblies.
What the NRC doesn’t explain, however, is what happens when all the electrical power and backup generators fail…
Nuclear meltdowns release radioactive Iodine-131
What’s the big deal about nuclear power plants melting down and release radioisotopes into the atmosphere? The problem is found in the toxic mix of radioisotopes released in such catastrophes. Various isotopes are released, most notably including Iodine-131 and Cesium-137 (along with some other isotopes of uranium and plutonium, depending on the elemental composition of the fuel used).
Iodine-131 and Cesium-137 are extremely dangerous because of their relatively short half lives. In the realm of physics, a shorter half-life means the element is giving off radiation more quickly, releasing more energy into surrounding ecosystems or organisms (which could include you)…
Bottom line: If the Brunswick nuclear power plant goes “Fukushima,” it’s over for the East Coast
It probably goes without saying, but if the Brunswick nuclear power plant goes into a meltdown, the entire U.S. East Coast would suffer unprecedented radiological contamination and disaster. This includes Washington D.C., Virginia, New York and perhaps even Boston, depending on wind speed and direction.