Extremely Important Aspect About Nuclear Reactors And EMP-CME Events

(You can also listen to the podcast on EMP and EMP Protection.)

Be sure to check out the videos I did that demonstrates shielding against a 50,000 watt AM signal, and the Surviving EMP Mini-Guide:

There is a little talked about, but extremely important aspect what an EMP attack or major CME event would have on nuclear reactors.  If your home or retreat area is near a nuclear reactor, you need to know about this very important fact that you’re not likely to hear much about.

Basically, a nuclear reactor needs external power to operate.  When the power grid goes down, diesel generators are supposed to kick on and supply power to the plant.

What happens when those generators don’t start? Or, if they do start, what happens when they run out of diesel fuel, say, in a week or so?

Keep in mind that nuclear reactors in the US are designed very safely, but this safety design is based on the assumption is that there will always be electricity flowing into the plant.  In a nutshell, these reactors must have water continually pumped into them to cool the reactors.  If this water stops, what happens is akin to the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011!

When there is no electricity to pump the water through the cooling system, the water around the cores starts to boil away and eventually the core is exposed.  When the cores are exposed, the cladding begins to melt and/or catch on fire.  The reactor is designed with a containment building around it to contain any radiation, fire and pressure that may occur during this type of event.  This is great, except…

When spent fuel rods are taken offline, they are kept onsite and under water because they also need to be kept cool.  Basically, the building they are kept in has no special containment or other safeties that the active core has, because they aren’t under active fission.  However, the water surrounding these spent cores also needs to be circulated to keep these cores cooled.

When this water can’t be circulated, the same thing starts to happen as it would in an active core: the water boils away exposing the hot cores and the radioactive steam begins to build.  However, whereas the active core is shielded against this sort of thing by the containment building, the spent fuel rods do not have a containment structure over it.

Again, look at what happened in the Fukushima disaster and you’ll get an idea of what will probably happen to reactors all over the US.  One of the biggest issues with the Fukushima nuclear power plant was in the building where the spent cores were being stored.  When the tsunami damaged the diesel generators, there was no power to keep the cores cooled.

If your home or retreat is within 50 miles, possibly 100 miles, of a nuclear power plant, you need to adapt your preparedness plan accordingly.

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6 Responses to Extremely Important Aspect About Nuclear Reactors And EMP-CME Events

  1. Pingback: Episode 120 – EMP and EMP Protection Part 1 | The Preparedness Podcast

    • yolanda says:

      Rob I was wondering if you had a chance to research Johns reply. I would love to check off the worry of reactor meltdowns off my list! It would be vital information for retreat planning.

      • Rob Hanus says:

        No research is necessary. John’s entire premise is during normal operations, not a post-EMP situation. I asked him specifically if reactors were protected against EMP and received no reply. I think what we can learn from this is John’s long dissertation was a puff piece from the nuclear sector.

        I have “inferred” that reactors are susceptible to EMP/CME or other widespread power outages (long-term type of scenarios). John opined that I was wrong, however he never gave any information supporting his claim that reactors were safe from EMP/CME. I think the truth is that “John” doesn’t know either or doesn’t want to say.

        Let’s be realistic. Reactors are not magically protected simply because they’re too scary to think about in a disaster situation. Unfortunately, the Fukushima disaster has illustrated this to us. John’s assertion that all reactor are safe is a lie, as not all reactors were built to the same specifications. Hopefully, the cores react as John described, but are all of them built this way? What about the military reactors? How about the research reactors?

        History has shown has showed us, time and time again, the meaning of hubris. My goal with the Preparedness Podcast is to get you to think, “What happens if we’re wrong?”

        I certainly hope that the engineers that design these reactors have thought of every contingency, but realism shows us this is not the case. We see time and time again how man-made structures are destroyed by nature because engineers “never imagined” that scale of a disaster.

        I firmly believe that the current nuclear reactors are some of the best technology and engineering that we had at the time, and that they are as safe as we were able to make them at the time. However, to make a blanket statement that none of the reactors in the US are susceptible to EMP/CME is, IMHO, either ignorant or propaganda. There are so many reactors, so many variables on what happens in a disaster, it’s impossible to know what will happen during a given. At the time, the Fukushima reactor were the safest made. So was the Titanic.

        We prepare for these types of contingencies, as we preppers know that life simply lives to throw us curve balls.

        • yolanda says:

          Thank you for your response. I too feel that given the right disater, very little of what our government has implemented in reactor saftey will be enough.

  2. John says:

    Rob,

    I have been in nuclear power for over 30 years, and have licensed by the NRC as both a Reactor Operator and Sr. Reactor Operator on two reactors. I take issue with your article regarding nuclear reactors. I have copied it below and added my comments below the paragraphs. I do hope you take the time to read my comments as I’m certain they will enlighten you.

    There is a little talked about, but extremely important aspect what an EMP attack or major CME event would have on nuclear reactors. If your home or retreat area is near a nuclear reactor, you need to know about this very important fact that you’re not likely to hear much about.
    > I don’t believe you have provided any information beyond your inference that an EMP/CME would have any impact whatsoever on nuclear reactors.

    Basically, a nuclear reactor needs external power to operate. When the power grid goes down, diesel generators are supposed to kick on and supply power to the plant.
    > Partially true: to “operate”, yes, external power is required. However, design requirements have nuclear plants capable of providing core cooling with no external power. Yes, D/G’s are required, but it is very unlikely that they will not be available.

    What happens when those generators don’t start? Or, if they do start, what happens when they run out of diesel fuel, say, in a week or so?
    > These scenarios are already factored into the designs. First you must answer ‘why’ they did not start. Issues causing a D/G believed to be operable can be fixed (we have the expertise and the parts), typically in a few hours. Well within design time-frames. Further, each reactor is required to have at least two D/G’s, many have even more than that. It is not credible to assume there will be no D/G at all (patently unfair to compare to Fukushima). Fuel contracts are in place for unlimited delivery of fuel in the event of a loss of offsite power that requires the D/G’s to operate for an extended period of time. It is not credible to believe that fuel cannot reach the site to keep the D/G’s running.

    Keep in mind that nuclear reactors in the US are designed very safely, but this safety design is based on the assumption is that there will always be electricity flowing into the plant. In a nutshell, these reactors must have water continually pumped into them to cool the reactors. If this water stops, what happens is akin to the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011!
    > You are DEAD WRONG on this assertion. Nuclear plant design parameters assume NO offsite power capability. They are designed to operate indefinitely with no offsite power provided at all.
    > Please study up on reactor design before printing your conclusions. Of the 104 currently operating reactors in the U.S., only 34 are of the BWR design similar to those in Japan. The rest are PWR (completely different design) and do not share the same sorts of failure scenarios. It’s incorrect to lump them together and compare. Further, the BWR designs in Japan were not upgraded as recommended by the vendor, U.S. reactors have the safety upgrades.
    > Stopping water flow to the reactor core DOES NOT cause what happened to the Fukushima reactors. The events in Japan involved a heck of a lot more than simply stopping the water – earthquake (which they survived as designed), tsunami (sea wall was known to be undersized and was not yet upgraded), total loss of all electrical power due to the tsunami (most of our reactors are inland). MANY other factors were involved which resulted in this disaster. You simply CANNOT say that stopping the water will cause Fukushima.

    When there is no electricity to pump the water through the cooling system, the water around the cores starts to boil away and eventually the core is exposed. When the cores are exposed, the cladding begins to melt and/or catch on fire. The reactor is designed with a containment building around it to contain any radiation, fire and pressure that may occur during this type of event. This is great, except…
    > This is somewhat correct – after many hours the water can boil away (assuming a breach in the reactor coolant system), carrying with it the decay heat from the shutdown reactor. This is designed such that the heat generated after this time-frame is far less (like the logs of a fire that has burned out remain hot initially, but cool over time). Again, this assumes a breach of the system which is very low probability. With no breach, reactors are designed with a delivery system not dependent on external power, this is typically a steam driven pump to keep water flowing. Sites are required to have storage tanks with sufficient water capacity to last until the core is cooled below certain temperatures (way below any melting capability).
    > Containment buildings in the U.S. are much more robust that what is allowed in some other countries (I cannot speak to the Fukushima design). For example, the Chernobyl reactor was ‘contained’ in a building that was essentially just a standard industrial building … sort of a pole barn compared to the U.S. structures.

    When spent fuel rods are taken offline, they are kept onsite and under water because they also need to be kept cool. Basically, the building they are kept in has no special containment or other safeties that the active core has, because they aren’t under active fission. However, the water surrounding these spent cores also needs to be circulated to keep these cores cooled.
    > Many sites are moving their spent fuel from their pools to dry casks located on their site. These casks require nothing but natural air flow in order to maintain the fuel safe. Robust? You would find these casks to be nothing short of incredible – this is very safe.
    > The pools do have some things to think about, but they are also very large and can sustain temperatures below boiling for days, typically, with no electricity (not very credible as explained earlier). However, assuming a loss of cooling capability, note that most of these pools have water levels in excess of 24 feet above the top of the fuel. Makeup from any source at all is sufficient in the absence of normal cooling methods, so even a fire truck or small pump bringing in lake water will suffice. Sites have been required to institute these alternate methods and most are either in place or very nearly so.

    When this water can’t be circulated, the same thing starts to happen as it would in an active core: the water boils away exposing the hot cores and the radioactive steam begins to build. However, whereas the active core is shielded against this sort of thing by the containment building, the spent fuel rods do not have a containment structure over it.
    > No, it is not the same. The spent fuel in the pool is typically quite ‘cool’ in a nuclear sense. It simply does not have the decay heat left that is necessary for any melting. The worst thing that could happen is the shielding properties of the water go away if the level lowers, but there is nothing above the pool. Again, any source of water will keep us out of this scenario.
    > Your statement “the active core is shielded against this sort of thing [steam building up] by the containment building” makes no sense – the containment has no effect on the cooling of the core, it simply prevents the release of radioactive material to the environment.

    Again, look at what happened in the Fukushima disaster and you’ll get an idea of what will probably happen to reactors all over the US. One of the biggest issues with the Fukushima nuclear power plant was in the building where the spent cores were being stored. When the tsunami damaged the diesel generators, there was no power to keep the cores cooled.
    > Sensationalism. This sort of talk is out of context and out of line and certainly displays ignorance of nuclear power in general, and the specifics associated with the Japan disaster and how that relates to our U.S. reactors.
    > The one biggest issue with the Fukushima disaster was the tsunami was larger than the postulated largest tsunami, so the wall to prevent the water intrusion into the site was not big enough to contain the wave. The situation was complicated by the D/G location – they were easily disable by the incoming water.
    > The building where the spent fuel (these are fuel assemblies, not cores … the core is the configuration of the assemblies inside the reactor vessel) is stored was designed with the assumption that D/G power would be available – this is good design. The tsunami wall was the weak point in the design. You even state that in the last sentence of your paragraph, AFTER you talked about the building being inadequate.

    > I have taken you to task here because you have done what most in the media have done – speak out of ignorance. I recognize that you do have some basic knowledge of plant design, but you have demonstrated that you DO NOT have enough knowledge to make the assertions that you have. We have learned a great deal since the Three Mile Island accident and have made many, many improvements to both the physical plants, the procedures and the training. An “accident” like that is now child’s-play on the simulators for budding Reactor Operators, not really a challenge for the skills of today’s control room teams. The ramifications of that accident to the public were miniscule (except if you believe what you read in Mother Earth News).

    > Of course, unforeseen circumstances may always arise and create situations that are way outside what our engineers have postulated. Though not impossible, this is highly improbable. You would be astounded at the amount of resources that the industry is currently pouring into ‘beyond design basis events’ these days – preparing for the unimaginable.

    > It is unfair to your subscribers for you to hand them this information and scare the crap out of them unnecessarily. There are many resources at your disposal to keep your information accurate. I know you want to do a good job with your site, and you have. My caution would be to defer to the experts on issues such as nuclear power, just to make sure you get it right. It will also show your subscribers that you are not going to bum-dope them if you don’t have the facts yourself.

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