Given the series of nuclear catastrophes unleashed last year by the record-breaking tsunami in Japan, it is a relief to report that the northeast nuclear power plants affected by this week's record-breaking "frankenstorm"--the result, roughly, of a collision between a hurricane and a northeaster—took the crisis in stride.
At Oyster Creek in southern New Jersey (photo), intake waters rose slightly above the maximum normally permitted at the nuclear power plant, setting off a low-level alarm, but no mishaps resulted, perhaps in part because the facility already was shut down for refueling. Though the plant lost power, needed to keep spent fuel ponds cooled, backup generators kicked in as called for.
Indian Point Unit 3, north of New York City, shut down immediately as required when the plant lost its connection to the external grid.
A unit of the Salem plant near Philadelphia was shut down manually at roughly the height of the storm when high waters and debris knocked out condensers needed for cooling. The operator said the plant had to release steam to keep heat down, possibly releasing a very small quantity of radioactive tritium into the atmosphere. At the Limerick plant, also near Philadelphia, the power level had to be reduced slightly because of condenser damage.
At the Oswego plant in upstate New York, one unit tripped automatically and another switched to backup power as the storm moved in, because of a power system fault that probably was related to the bad weather.
All in all, safety and protection systems appear to have worked as intended.