U.S. nuclear plants face the first post-Fukushima test of their ability to withstand multiple natural disasters as Hurricane Irene bears down on an area shaken by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake.
The temblor yesterday knocked out power to Dominion Resources Inc.’s North Anna nuclear plant in Virginia and prompted 12 stations from North Carolina to Michigan to declare “unusual events,” the lowest-level emergency designated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
North Anna’s twin reactors were being cooled by backup diesel generators yesterday after automatically shutting down during the earthquake, whose epicenter was less than 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the plant, about 85 miles southwest of Washington, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
One of the plant’s four diesel generators, which power the reactors’ cooling systems during the blackout, stopped working as a result of a coolant leak, Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in an interview. Dominion Resources called a fifth standby generator into service to replace the broken unit, Ryan Frazier, a spokesman for the Richmond, Virginia-based company, said in an e-mail.
“It’s not critical at this point,” Hanah said. “They are able to operate all safety systems off the generators they have.”
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