10/30/2012 07:17 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2012

Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant on Alert

Earlier this morning, at 10:00 a.m., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued an alert on the Oyster Bay Nuclear Power Plant in Lacey Township, N.J. According to a statement issued by the NRC, "heightened coverage will continue... due to high water levels in its water intake structure."

The NRC advises that the Oyster Creek Alert is the second lowest of four levels of emergency classification used by the NRC. An alert is declared when "events are in process or have occurred that involve an actual or potential substantial degradation in the level of safety of the plant." However, it is important to note that an Alert is not an emergency (which constitute the 3rd and 4th levels of notification). Click on EPA for additional information regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's protective action guides (PAGs).

The Oyster Creek plant was shut down for refueling and maintenance prior to the storm and the reactor remains out of service at this time. The NRC press release stresses that all plants have their key components and systems "housed in watertight buildings capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds and flooding."

The situation is being actively monitored by NRC inspectors, and the NRC website is being updated on a regular basis. Plant operators are waiting for the intake levels to lower "below the specific criteria for the intake structure." Once the water level has dropped and the NRC is confident that the water level will remain at an acceptable level, the alert may be lifted, according to a NRC spokesperson, who spoke to me by phone today.

Three other reactors experienced "trips" or shutdowns, during Superstorm Sandy, but the "safety systems responded as designed," according to the NRC. The nuclear plants affected were Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y., Salem Unit 1 in Hancocks Bridge, N.J. and Nine Mile Point 1, in Scriba, N.Y.

Long Island, which was particularly hard hit by storm surge and flooding, has more than 900,000 people without power. Thousands of outside contractors have flooded into the island to help assess the damage, clean up trees and damaged lines and restore power. LIPA has issued three important safety tips for Long Island residents:

  • Never touch any downed wire, assume it is a live electric wire, and stay away from it. Report any downed wire to LIPA immediately at 1-800-490-0075.
  • If you use a generator to supply power during an outage, be sure to only operate it outdoors away from windows and vents. The generator should not be connected to the home's wiring. Power can flow out of your home jeopardizing the safety of crews working to restore power.
  • If you have lost power, unplug appliances and electronics to protect them from a possible power surge. Leave one light on so you will know when power is restored.

Being without power is tough, and staying safe is a top priority. However, at least Long Island residents don't have to worry about any nuclear alerts in their neighborhood. The Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant was decommissioned beginning in 1991. The final shipment of uranium fuel took place in June of 1994 (source: the Long Island Power Authority).

I'll continue to monitor this situation tirelessly. My son is in NYC.