Salem Nuclear Plant Still Without River Access, On Backup Systems

The NRC is reporting Salem unit 1 to still be on auxiliary feedwater and steam venting after the water intakes for the condenser cooling system became blocked. Rising river water and storm debris blocked the water intake system on Oct 29th when hurricane Sandy passed by. The NRC has not reported any change to this condition as of Oct 31 morning reports.

The NRC also reported that a low pressure turbine rupture disc was broken open in relation to the condensers experiencing high back pressure.  According to the NRC reports access to the ultimate heat sink (the river) has not been regained at Salem unit 1. This would put the reactor still on emergency back up cooling methods. The reactor currently sits at 549f (287c) with that temperature steady. This is a good sign that the alternative cooling methods are working. Loss of the ultimate heat sink is considered a major event for a nuclear reactor and a contributing factor to the problems in Japan at Fukushima Daiichi and also at Daini and Tokai nuclear plants in Japan after the tsunami. Reactors need to dump gigawatts worth of heat during operation and during the shutdown phase. Reactors require some ongoing cooling even when shut down. MIT explains decay heat here. Salem was running at 100% when the storm hit and the intakes became blocked. It is considered technically unwise to do this and was likely a profit based decision to keep running knowing power loss or emergency shutdown was likely. Some reactors in the region did reduce their power ahead of the storm operators said it was to deal with load balancing in the grid.

Spent fuel pools also need heat removal that is provided by the intake pump (service water) system. Some plants also require access to that intake river water to provide cooling for their diesel generators.  Just like a car engine, some diesel generators need to dissipate heat through a water cooling system. These generator systems are connected to the river water system to remove that heat and provide new cold water. The generators at Fukushima Daiichi were this type.

The NRC and the operator need to make clear to the public the current status of the intake system and a projected time to regain that function at Salem #1.

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