Environment

How to monitor nuclear reactors during Hurricane Florence (and in calmer times)

Duke Energy temporarily shut down its Brunswick Nuclear Plant in advance of Hurricane Florence’s landfall. (Photo: Duke Energy)

All of North Carolina’s four nuclear reactors lie in or near the path of Hurricane Florence, as the storm moves from east to west. While the plants were built to withstand storms of this severity, readers might be curious about how to monitor them. All of the reactors are owned, at least in part, by Duke Energy.

  • Brunswick, near Southport and Wilmington, has two units, one that began operating in 1975 and the other in 1977.
  • McGuire, is on Lake Norman in Mecklenburg County. Its first unit went online in 1981, followed by the second unit in 1984.
  • Shearon Harris, which lies 22 miles southwest of Raleigh on Harris Lake, has one unit. It began operating in 1987.
  • Catawba, technically in South Carolina, is on Lake Wylie, which straddles the state line. Its two units went online in the mid-1980s.

Like all of the nation’s reactors, they are overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC’s website contains many public documents, including incident and environmental reports For example, you can read about the amount of radioactive effluent the plants legally discharge into their respective lakes.

On this page of the NRC site, you can see the operating status of the plants. North Carolina is in Region II, and if you scroll down, you’ll see that Brunswick has temporarily stopped producing power. Duke Energy announced it was doing so, more out of concern about potential flooding than wind.

The main reactor page contains several links, including those all-important “radioactive effluent and environmental reports” — not exactly bedtime reading, but nonetheless interesting.

The ADAMS portion of the NRC site can take you down many rabbit holes, but it contains the comprehensive database of public documents, both current and archived. Also of note is the page listing the “reports associated with incidents.” This links to reports for reactors nationwide. You can search by date and year.

These reports include not only incidents involving nuclear reactors but also “unplanned contamination events” (as opposed to the planned variety?) the transport and disposal of radioactive waste and medical facilities’ use of radioactive materials, such as those in CT and PET scans.

I go to the NRC website at least once a week for updates. During events like Hurricane Florence, I check in a minimum of once a day. Now you can, too.

 

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