After Earthquake, Emergency Backup Generators Cool Nuclear Reactors at Virginia Power Plant


In the wake of a powerful 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered approximately 40 miles northwest of Richmond, Virginia, two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in Louisa County have been automatically taken offline. As aftershocks roll through the area, the reactors are being cooled by three emergency diesel generators at the Dominion-operated plant. Reports indicate that a fourth generator failed.

Escalating public concern – no doubt exacerbated by the ongoing disaster at the crippled Fukushima-Daiichi plant in Japan – elicited an immediate response from U.S. nuclear regulators. In a rather unreassuring statement from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, spokesman David McIntyre said this: “As far as we know, everything is safe.”

According to a Bloomberg report, immediate cooling capabilities and restoring power are critical to averting a crisis:

“The reactors need power to cool the operating cores and spent fuel,” Chris Gadomski, a nuclear analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in an e-mail. “If we lose the backup diesel generators at North Anna, you can have a similar situation as Fukushima developing there. Virginia Power should try to restore offsite power as soon as possible.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, there are low-level safety concerns at other plants up and down the eastern seaboard:

There are seven additional nuclear plants that have declared unusual events, which is the lowest of four emergency situations, the NRC said.

Those plants are located in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation at North Anna as it continues to develop.

Read the Bloomberg report here:

Read the WSJ report here:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • Thanks for posting this. There has been remarkably little attention paid to the risks associated with the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant as a result of the earthquake. Reportedly, the plant was built to withstand earthquakes of 5.9-6.1 in magnitude, which is not reassuring.
    – Amy in Springfield, Virginia

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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