Salem 1 and 2 nuclear power plants in New Jersey reduced their power output because of debris washed downriver by Hurricane Irene’s floodwaters clogged the plants’ cooling water intakes.
Output at Salem 1 reduced down to 62 percent and at Salem 2 to 90 percent, according to Joe Delmar, spokesman for the plant’s operator, PSEG Nuclear.
Salem 1 and 2, when operating at full power, draw in and return 3 billion gallons of water for cooling a day from the Delaware River. The neighboring Hope Creek reactor draws considerably less water from the river because it has a cooling tower which enables the plant to recirculate cooling water.
The debris includes vegetation, larger pieces of wood and trash, Delmar said. As water draws into the plants from the river, the debris accumulates on protective screening over the water intakes, restricting the flow.
The situation today is similar to spring “grassing” when vegetation dislodged from along the river upstream carries downstream and clogs the water intakes. This past spring the situation was particularly difficult for plant operators.
Salem 1 shut down three times this spring because of the problem. Salem 2 at the time was off line for a scheduled refueling outage.
The larger amount of debris in the river became noticeable and has continued to grow, Delmar said.
Delmar said plant operators will continue to monitor the situation and the river conditions.
The three reactors, located at PSEG Nuclear’s Artificial Island generating complex, operated at full power during Hurricane Irene. Officials said three issues could have lead to their shutdown during the storm: Loss of off-site power, hurricane force winds and flooding. However, none of these issues had an impact on the plants during the storm.
The reactors comprise the second largest nuclear complex in the United States. They produce enough electricity to power 3 million homes.