It’s still business as usual for the region’s power plants

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 18, 2011

VIDALIA — A lot of people are spending their days with one eye cast to the rising Mississippi River, but even with the river moving past the Sydney A. Murray Jr. Hydroelectric Station at a rate of 1.5 million cubic feet of water per second, it’s business as usual.

Even with high water, Entergy limits the plant from operating at full capacity because of federal environmental restrictions, so the high water has been only a limited boon, Louisiana Hydroelectric General Manager David Harris said.

An effect is felt, however, when the Old River flood control structure is opened.

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“That will negatively affect our production,” Harris said. “It raises the water level on the back side of the station, which decreases the flow we can put through the station and therefore we make less power.

“But all of that is understood under these circumstances.”

Local consumers would not feel an impact from reduced or heightened energy production at the plant because it produces only a small portion of the Entergy total, and Harris said the river would have to reach 73 feet before operations at the station were impaired.

“If (the river) reached that level, we would be shut down, but at that level Concordia Parish and other parts of Louisiana would be under water as well,” he said. “It would be over the levees before it overtopped our station.”

Upriver near the town of Port Gibson, officials at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant don’t expect the rising river to be an issue but are preparing just in case, Communication Specialist Suzanne Anderson said.

“We do not anticipate based on the (estimated) crest levels by the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) that we will undergo any type of shut down,” Anderson said.

“If we do have to, we have many years of safely shutting down and restarting the plant.”

The only issue Grand Gulf would face would be the possible encroachment of water on the nuclear facility itself.

“We are doing sandbagging, we are keeping employees informed of potential road closures and routes to the plant,” Anderson said.

“We don’t expect any of our safety-related equipment to be affected by the river’s rising levels, and before making any decision we put the safety of plant employees and the public first.”

The area’s other nuclear power plant — River Bend Nuclear Generating Station — is located downriver at St. Francisville, and Entergy Nuclear Spokesperson Katie Damratoski said all of the facility’s systems are either well out of the river’s reach or in watertight compartments.

The only portion of the facility threatened by the river is the plant cooling water makeup system, which is used to replenish water lost by the plant due to evaporation or drift.

The makeup system is needed only when the plant is operating at full power, and Damratoski said that while she could not discuss the specifics for security reasons she could say it is being protected.

“We are in no threat of (the river) affecting any of our safety systems,” she said.

“We are not in a situation where we need sandbags.”

Like her counterpart in Grand Gulf, Damratoski said the company has years of experience safely shutting down and restarting its nuclear facilities — for example, when hurricanes might affect them.

“In the event that we feel we will lose any integrity of the plant we will go into safe shutdown mode,” she said.