Pandemic Risks & Disruption At World’s Nuclear Plants

The pandemic has caused some very real safety threats to the nuclear industry worldwide. The disruption and a distracted public has also been seen as an opportunity for deregulation.

One of the main concerns with nuclear plant owners and regulators is having a plant operations crew fall ill from the virus. A contractor for a New Jersey nuclear plant has tested positive.

Spring is the primary time of year for nuclear power plants to refuel due to low demand for electricity. US nuclear plants are still planning on doing refueling work while most US states are in lockdown. This work normally takes hundreds of traveling contractors and about a month of work to complete. Power companies have decided to defer most safety maintenance during these refuelings, but they will still need about half of the traveling contractors do just to the minimal refueling work. This work frequently takes place in crowded groups of people, or in cramped areas of the plant. Social distancing under these conditions are impossible. Each refueling also requires a considerable number of tyvek suits, respirators and rubber gloves. The same ones that hospitals are currently running out of while they try to fight the pandemic. Electricity demand was flat in late February. With stores and factories closed, and people staying home, demand will continue to go down.

The US NRC has proposed a rule change that would allow some nuclear waste to be sent to municipal trash landfills. Experts question why they are doing this in the middle of a pandemic.

Forest fires broke out near Chernobyl again, raising ambient radiation levels in the area.

Industrial power consumers have used force maejure to cancel nuclear power buying contracts with EDF in France.

Japan is preparing to declare a state of emergency as virus cases drastically increase. Most nuclear plants in Japan are offline, but this is a direct threat to operations at Fukushima Daiichi if the virus begins to circulate among the workforce.

 

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