Hurricane Ida is expected to hit the US as a category 4 storm. The Weather Channel projects Sunday night landfall and a direct hit on Louisiana. Storm surges in the area range from the Texas border to Mobile Alabama.
Two nuclear power plants are in the direct storm path. River Bend and Waterford. Waterford sits near the mouth of the Mississippi and in the zone of the highest expected storm surge. Current estimates have a 10-15 foot surge expected for that area. This could be potentially more severe as the storm pushes water up the Mississippi River. Waterford sits about 24 miles from the mouth of the river and is next to Lake Pontchartrain.
River Bend and Waterford marked on a map. Waterford in the lower right.
The area of most severe storm surge is expected between Morgan City LA and the mouth of the Mississippi. Both Morgan City and Waterford are marked with yellow pins on the above map.
Google Earth view of Waterford nuclear power plant and the configuration of the water intakes on the bank of the Mississippi. The plant sits about 13 to 19 feet above sea level. Much of the surrounding land is at a lower elevation. The height of the plant is within the range of the storm surge. The lower surrounding land could leave the plant essentially an island for days as was seen at the South Texas Nuclear Project in 2017 when hurricane Harvey hit.
Storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain could add to the flooding issues.
Waterford is the plant of most concern that we will be watching through the weekend. Storm surge knocking out the water cooling system is a primary concern. High winds can damage equipment related to offsite power, back up generators and other equipment critical to keeping the reactor cooled.
After hurricane Katrina researchers found that ground faults caused some levee failures. These type of faults were found at Waterford.
Waterford survived Katrina mostly unscathed but they had to run on back up diesel generators for 4 days to keep the reactor systems cool. Waterford shut down ahead of Katrina making landfall due to the high winds. If back up diesel generators stop functioning, this causes a station blackout. This is the condition that led to the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi.
River Bend nuclear plant is further inland but not completely without risk. This plant is about 111 miles inland from New Orleans. The plant site along the Mississippi river is about 93-95 feet above sea level. The plant and water intakes are set back from the river. While this situation is better than Waterford, River Bend could still have complicating factors or damage from the hurricane.
River Bend station and Morgan City pinned on map. New Orleans is the gray area on the lake.
River Bend nuclear plant site and the intake area where water is piped in from the river.
River Bend station and proximity to Mississippi river.
We will have updates as Ida approaches landfall.
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