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US nuclear plants eye dangerous Hurricane Isabel

US nuclear plants eye dangerous Hurricane Isabel
NEW YORK - Nuclear power plant operators on the U.S. East Coast, while keeping a close eye on Hurricane Isabel, said they are unlikely to shut their plants until just hours before the powerful storm strikes. \"That decision to shut the plants comes if winds at hurricane strength are going to hit and it comes two hours prior to the wind speeds getting there,\" a spokesman for Southeast utility Progress Energy Inc. PGN.N said. Progress Energy operates the Brunswick nuclear power station near Cape Fear on the North Carolina coast. Overall there are eight nuclear power plants along the coast from Florida to New Jersey - among the region\'s biggest power generators - and several others further inland along the hurricane\'s projected path. Isabel, a monster storm packing 140 mph (225 kph) winds, is expected to make landfall Thursday near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and move north through Virginia, Maryland, and into central Pennsylvania by early Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. Storms pose little danger to reactors since they are housed in massive concrete containment buildings easily capable of withstanding hurricane force winds. But major storms kick up huge ocean swells that can clog cooling water intake systems at some nuclear plants. Debris hurled through the air by strong winds can also cause havoc at the plants\' outdoor switchyards, where the megawatts they generate flow into high voltage lines. Nuclear units lying closest to Isabel\'s forecast path include Dominion Resources Inc.\'s D.N 1,624 megawatt Surry station in Virginia and Constellation Energy Group Inc.\'s CEG.N 1,700 MW Calvert Cliffs station in Maryland. Other plants along the storm\'s path include Progress Energy\'s 1,752 MW Brunswick plant, Dominion\'s 1,842 MW North Anna station in Virginia, and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.\'s PEG.N 2,300 MW Salem and 1,100 MW Hope Creek stations in New Jersey. One megawatt powers roughly 1,000 homes. Dominion spokesman Richard Zuercher said the company had not yet taken steps to shut any of its power stations but was securing any loose equipment to keep it from blowing away. NO LINES - NO DEMAND Progress spokesman Mike McCracken said the decision to shut the company\'s nuclear plants would come if hurricane winds, anything over 74 mph (118 kph), were expected at the plants. \"It\'s procedural to shut the units down, and quite frankly a lot of the power lines end up getting knocked down so you don\'t need the generation anyway,\" McCracken said. The company\'s Brunswick plant was hit by several hurricanes in the late 1990s, slightly damaging its administrative offices but leaving the plant itself unscathed. \"I can\'t think of a safer place to be and a lot of us will be here in our real secure buildings to ride out the storm,\" McCracken said. South Carolina-based SCANA Corp. SCG.N spokesman Brian Duncan said the company had not begun to shut its 1,000 megawatt Summer nuclear plant near Parr, South Carolina, but would implement the company\'s storm plan about 72 hours prior to expected landfall. Electricity traders noted the ground in some parts of central Maryland and Pennsylvania was already saturated by soaking rain that was causing flooding and additional flooding from the hurricane could force more plants to shut. (Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino) REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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