Nearby nuclear plants similar to one in Japan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 17, 2011

NATCHEZ — Natchez sits between two nuclear power plants that are similar in design to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan that was still in a state of crisis Wednesday night.

The Grand Gulf Nuclear Station 40 miles to the north and River Bend Station 60 miles to the south are both boiling-water reactors. Both plants have operated since the mid-1980s.

But Entergy Nuclear spokesperson Mike Bowling said details in the designs vary, and the local plants have improved safety standards.

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Grand Gulf and River Bend use a different type of containment system than the Japanese plant. The containment system is the final barrier the surrounds the nuclear reactor and prevents radiation from escaping.

Suzanne Anderson, a communications specialist for Grand Gulf Nuclear Station near Port Gibson, said Grand Gulf has a star rating with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in which it volunteers to participate.

Entergy conducts emergency response drills “every few weeks” to ensure employees are familiar with every type of emergency, Anderson said.

An Entergy press release also reports that systems at the local plants are also designed with multiple contingent backup systems to provide greater safety margins.

Both local plants were designed to withstand natural disasters that might occur in the area, the release said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires that the plants be built to withstand the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for each site and the surrounding area.

In addition, the NRC ensures standards are set to prepare for a future event, such as an earthquake or flooding, which could be more severe than any previously recorded disaster.

The Entergy press release asks that residents realize Japan’s natural environment and susceptibility to earthquakes varies vastly from the local environment.

The Grand Gulf power plant sits just to the south of the New Madrid fault line’s potential earthquake damage risk zone as defined by the U.S. Geological Service.

The press release pointed out that it was likely not the earthquake that caused the damage to the plant in Japan.

“While it is still early, it appears that the nuclear units’ safety systems functioned properly after the initial effects of the earthquake in Japan. Reports suggest it was the overwhelming tsunami that severely damaged the plant’s cooling capabilities and recovery efforts,” the release says.

The release says lessons will be learned from the tragic event in Japan.

“Incorporating those lessons into operating experience is a hallmark of the global nuclear industry,” the release says.