Tag Archives: Hurricane Sandy

Timing and framing: How to address nuclear and climate change

by Suzy Hobbs Baker

Technology is an amazing thing. As Hurricane Sandy approached the Northeast last month, I watched and read as friends in the area tweeted pictures and thoughts on the situation. I didn’t have to worry if they were okay, as many were able to post hourly status updates with items such as: “Still okay, still have power. Just wish we had more beer and chocolate.”

In stark contrast to the several-day silence in the wake of Katrina in 2005, New Yorkers were ready with carefully-charged mobile devices that allowed them to self-report their entire experience of Sandy—even long after the power was out. In 2005, the iPhone and Twitter did not yet exist. Seven years later, these tools were essential in New York City’s emergency response.

New York’s Governor Cuomo

In the wake of the storm I also bore witness to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s real-time “climate awakening” on twitter. Yes, I know it sounds strange, but he shared his realization that climate change is here now, 140 characters at a time over the Internet. He also made the rounds with the media, refusing to entertain a political debate about the causes of climate change, and instead focused on the immediate challenge of managing increased coastal flooding of his state in recent years. Having just witnessed the first presidential debate in my lifetime that did not focus on climate change as a central issue—I was relieved that a politician was willing to talk climate with both frankness and urgency.

Unfortunately, Cuomo also used this as an opportunity to talk about shutting down Indian Point Nuclear Station—one of the structures and sources of electricity that weathered the storm without damage. He sees the changing climate as a threat to one of New York’s primary energy suppliers, and thinks it should be shuttered.

Timing and framing

Two things about this situation struck me as important: timing and framing.

The framework that Cuomo has laid out is extremely important in that it serves to confirm what some people already believe should happen, at a time when they expect dramatic action. That confluence of events translates into a real risk of shutting down nuclear plants specifically in response to climate change, now and in the future. If the nuclear industry stays mum on climate change, this could become a dominant narrative.

The iron is hot, however, for providing another way of framing the situation that offers a better solution.

Repositioning and reframing

In my opinion, the nuclear industry has a critical opportunity at this point in history to position itself as the hero in this story. First of all, nuclear is one of the largest sources of carbon-free electricity. Anyone who is serious about addressing climate change needs to be fully aware of the many, many historical and current examples of increased greenhouse gas emissions as an unavoidable outcome of shutting nuclear plants. In addition to increased emissions, Germany and Japan are also dealing with skyrocketing energy prices and grid destabilization that is negatively impacting manufacturing.

The nuclear industry is also very experienced and knowledgeable in terms of hardening infrastructure and emergency preparedness. So, as Cuomo fights for better infrastructure and planning in the face of climate change, he has mistaken a potential ally—the nuclear industry—as a foe. The nuclear industry can help reduce impacts of climate change by building out new nuclear technologies, and also by providing an advanced understanding of adapting and preparing for extreme weather.

As small modular reactors and Generation IV designs near commercialization, we need to update the way we frame and communicate about the role of nuclear energy in society. In the 1950s, radiation gave comic heroes their superpowers Now, nuclear is often aligned with the villains in movies and comics. Luckily, we live in a time when information abounds and perspectives and cultural constructs change rapidly, and everyday people have more power than ever to influence that dialogue.

Technology and the subsequent ways that we communicate are constantly evolving.  Just a few short years ago there was no such thing as Twitter, and social media was just starting to gain traction as a serious platform for news and information. Now, social media is central to how we share information and communicate—and even to how we conduct emergency response.

Nuclear is a relatively new technology when compared to other energy sources (younger even than solar and wind), and we are still adapting and processing our feelings about this technology as a culture. The dominant narrative at this time is that people who are concerned about climate change should reject nuclear energy—but that simply does not have to be the case. Right now is the perfect time to provide a new framework for supporting nuclear as a solution to climate change.

I highly recommend starting with Governor Cuomo. If you’d like to tweet your thoughts to him, his Twitter handle is @NYGovCuomo—let him know that the nuclear industry is the hero in this story—not the villain.

Photos courtesy of Greg Molyneux

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Hobbs Baker

Suzy Hobbs Baker is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a nonprofit organization that conducts educational outreach through the Nuclear Literacy Project. Baker is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

 

 

Spent Fuel Pool at Oyster Creek

By Will Davis

As the Eastern half of the United States falls under siege by Hurricane Sandy and combined weather fronts—which together are being termed ”Frankenstorm”—the nuclear community is targeted by nuclear opponents keen on capitalizing on this severe weather event. A recent piece quoting Arnold Gundersen asserts that Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is facing serious problems should it lose offsite power, saying essentially that the plant will be unable to provide cooling for the spent fuel in its spent fuel pool.

This allegation is without merit.

This document—a memorandum from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission  staff to the then-operator of Oyster Creek—spells out the spent fuel pool (SFP) cooling arrangements in place back in 2000. It includes the following description of the SFP cooling arrangements:

Make up water to the SFP is normally provided by the condensate system from the condensate storage tank (CST) which has a nominal capacity of 525,000 gallons. The condensate pumps can provide 250 gallons per minute (gpm) with one pump operating or 420 gpm with two pumps. Additional makeup can be provided from the demineralized water storage tank (nominal capacity 30,000 gallons) by connecting the demineralized water transfer pumps to the SFP with hoses. The fire protection system can also provide makeup from the fire pond to the CST using the 2,000 gpm diesel driven fire pumps through a permanent connection.

The SFPCS {Spent Fuel Pool Cooling System} removes decay heat from fuel stored in the SFP through its associated heat exchangers to the reactor building closed cooling water (RBCCW) system. The SFP water is maintained within its TS limits by these systems. The SFPCS consists of two SFP pumps, two SFP shell and tube heat exchangers, two augmented fuel pool pumps, and one augmented fuel pool plate and frame heat exchanger. In addition, the SFPCS also includes interconnections with the condensate demineralizers and the condensate systems which filter and demineralize the SFP water as well as provide makeup water to the SFP. The SFPCS operates continuously to maintain the SFP water temperature at or below the Oyster Creek TS limit (maximum of 125 degrees Fahrenheit (F)).

As we can see, a total loss of offsite power (LOOP) scenario has clearly been considered—otherwise, diesel fire pumps would not have been mentioned.

Oyster Creek Nuclear Energy Facility

Plants designed to handle spent fuel pools during loss of offsite power

Oyster Creek, like all other operating U.S. nuclear plants, was built to design considerations (10 CFR 50 Appendix A) that set limits on design that includes the protection of spent fuel pool from events both man-made (operational) and natural. The plant has been designed to handle the full heat load of the spent fuel placed in the pool—even with a loss of offsite power.

Spent fuel pool cooling has received greater attention since the Fukushima Daiichi accident; during that accident and for some time after, many had wrongly assumed and asserted that the spent fuel pools were in dire condition. In fact, some even claimed that Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 was going to collapse and that the spent fuel was going to trigger a cataclysm. Those allegations were refuted at the time, multiple times,  and have been proven false.

Even though early post-Fukushima assumptions about spent fuel pools were overly unrealistic, the NRC has emphasized SFP cooling and level measurement as a part of its post-Fukushima action plan. Many experts and the Nuclear Energy Institute consider this approach sensible. NEI points out, however, via NEI Nuclear Notes that moving SFP actions to Tier 1 in no way implies that operating U.S. nuclear plants aren’t already safe. Read that post here.

The Safety Evaluation Report related to license renewal of Oyster Creek at the NRC contains the following information about Oyster Creek’s spent fuel cooling system:

The SFPCS (Spent Fuel Pool Cooling System) is designed for both normal and accident conditions of loss of offsite power coincident with a single active component failure.  The augmented SFPCS is designed to provide a seismically qualified cooling loop capable of providing cooling during such conditions.

As if that were not enough:

Exelon – Oyster Creek Safety and Emergency Planning Fact Sheet

Clearly, there is provision for SFP cooling at Oyster Creek using two SFP systems—the one that was originally installed and an augmented system installed when the pool capacity was increased—and also it’s a fact that the plant, like all others in the path of the storm, is and has been well aware of the approach of this storm and has even more personnel (and NRC inspectors) on site than usual, making full preparation for any event. “Any event” includes extended loss of offsite power.

Oyster Creek has multiple cooling systems for spent fuel pool

UPDATE:  Exelon has re-confirmed to the American Nuclear Society by telephone and e-mail that Oyster Creek does in fact have numerous, redundant cooling systems for the spent fuel including closed-loop and service water systems. Exelon tells us that if required, two locomotive–sized diesel engines are ready and standing by should offsite power be lost, to provide power to those two backup systems during the refueling outage should an extended LOOP scenario arise.

Exelon has, as expected by many, declared an Unusual Event at Oyster Creek due to the rising water levels. Below are excerpts from Exelon’s press release on this declaration (emphasis added):

 Oyster Creek Generating Station Declares Unusual Event

Lowest of four NRC emergency action levels reached due to high water levels

Forked River , NJ (October 29, 2012) Exelon Nuclear declared an “Unusual Event” at Oyster Creek Generating Station at 7 p.m. today after water levels in the plant’s intake structure reached higher than normal levels.

This is an anticipated declaration required by procedures and is the result of Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the region. There is no challenge to the safety of the plant. Oyster Creek is currently shut down for planned maintenance and refueling.

Oyster Creek is a robust and fortified facility, capable of withstanding the most severe weather. When the storm was identified, operators performed a host of plant inspections to ensure that all safety systems were operational and that outside equipment and materials were properly secured.

An Unusual Event is the lowest of four emergency classifications established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There is no danger to the public or plant employees associated with this declaration.

Exelon Nuclear has notified all appropriate federal, state and local emergency response officials of the Unusual Event.

Oyster Creek is about 60 miles east of Philadelphia in Ocean County, New Jersey. The plant produces 636 net megawatts of electricity at full power, enough electricity to supply 600,000 typical homes, the equivalent to all homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties combined.

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For more information

Below is a brief video interview with the Nuclear Energy Institute‘s Everett Redmond, director of Nonproliferation and Fuel Cycle Policy. He breaks down in straightforward language the purpose and design of spent fuel pools to store used fuel at nuclear energy facilities. This is a basic overview that does not address specific nuclear energy facilities.

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Will Davis is a writer and Social Media consultant for ANS, is a Contributing Reporter to Fuel Cycle Week, owns and writes the Atomic Power Review blog, and is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W reactor plants.

ANS staff members also contributed to this report and compiled additional resources for readers.

Hurricane Sandy links: updates and information (Updated 10-31, 12:00 pm ET)

Scroll down to hurricane graphic for resources and links.

Update 10/31 12:00 pm ET

Alert ends at Oyster Creek nuclear plant in NJ

Updated 10/30 5:00 pm ET

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a news release (excerpts below; emphasis added):

NRC STARTING TO RETURN TO NORMAL INSPECTION COVERAGE FOLLOWING SANDY; ALERT REMAINS IN EFFECT AT OYSTER CREEK NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is beginning to return to normal inspection coverage for nuclear power plants in the Northeastern United States in the path of Hurricane Sandy. Heightened coverage will continue at Oyster Creek, a plant in Lacey Township, N.J., still in an “Alert” due to high water levels in its water intake structure.

In addition to the event at Oyster Creek, three reactors experienced trips, or shutdowns, during the storm. They were Indian Point 3, in Buchanan, N.Y.; Salem Unit 1, in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.; and Nine Mile Point 1, in Scriba, N.Y. All safety systems responded as designed.

At Oyster Creek, the Alert – the second lowest of four levels of emergency classification used by the NRC – remains in effect as plant operators wait for the water intake levels to drop to pre-designated thresholds. The water level rose due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. Oyster Creek was shut down for a refueling and maintenance outage prior to the storm and the reactor remains out of service. Water levels are beginning to subside to more normal levels, but the plant remains in an Alert status until there is enough confidence levels will remain at more normal levels. Offsite power at the plant is in the process of being restored.

Meanwhile, three plants—Millstone 3, in Connecticut, Vermont Yankee, in Vermont, and Limerick, in Pennsylvania—reduced power in advance of or in response to the storm. Millstone 3’s power was reduced to about 70 percent in advance of the storm to minimize potential impacts on its circulating water system due to the storm. Vermont Yankee reduced power to 89 percent in response to a request from the grid operator due to the loss of a transmission line in New Hampshire. Limerick Unit 1’s power was reduced to about 50 percent and Limerick Unit 2’s to about 25 percent in response to low electrical demands on the grid because of storm-related power outages.

Besides potentially affected nuclear power plants, the NRC also monitored any possible impacts on nuclear materials sites it oversees but did not identify any concerns.

NRC inspectors were onsite at all of the nuclear power plants expected to experience the greatest effects of the storm. Those inspectors were tasked with independently verifying that operators were following relevant procedures to ensure plant safety before, during and after the storm.

The NRC will continue to coordinate with other federal and state agencies prior to the restart of the affected plants.

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Updated 10/30 no time stamp

The Nuclear Energy Institute issued the following news release: Nuclear Energy Facilities Prove Resilience During Hurricane Sandy. The release contains status updates on the 34 nuclear energy plants affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The following is a summary of U.S. nuclear power plant performance during Hurricane Sandy (as of 11 a.m. Oct 30) from the NEI release.

Connecticut
Millstone 2
—shut down for refueling outage
Millstone 3
—safely reduced power from 100 percent to 75 percent on Oct. 29 at the request of the electric grid operator.

Maryland
Calvert Cliffs 1 and 2—continued operating at 100 percent power.

Massachusetts
Pilgrim 1—continued operating at 100 percent power.

New Hampshire
Seabrook 1—shut down for refueling outage, but safely restarted Oct. 30 and is at 20 percent power.

New Jersey
Oyster Creek—shut down for refueling outage; alert declared Oct. 29 due to high water level at water intake structure
Hope Creek 1—continued operating at 100 percent power
Salem 1—manual safe shut down from 100 percent power on Oct. 30 due to high water level at water intake structure
Salem 2—shut down for refueling outage.

New York
Indian Point 2—continued operating at 100 percent power
Indian Point 3—manual safe shut down from 100 percent power on Oct. 30 due to an electric grid disruption
Ginna—shut down for refueling outage
Fitzpatrick—continued operating at 100 percent power
Nine Mile Point 1—manual safe shut down from 100 percent power on Oct. 29 due to an electric grid disruption
Nine Mile Point 2—continued operating at 100 percent power.

North Carolina
Brunswick 1 and 2—continued operating at 100 percent power.

Ohio
Perry 1—safely reduced power from 100 percent to 91 percent on Oct. 30 at the request of the regional electric grid operator
Davis-Besse—continued operating at 100 percent power.

Pennsylvania
Peach Bottom 2 and 3—continued operating at 100 percent power
Three Mile Island 1—continued operating at 100 percent power
Limerick 1 and 2—safely reduced power from 100 percent to 50 percent and 22 percent respectively on Oct. 30 due to storm effects and at the request of the regional electric grid operator
Beaver Valley 1—continued operating at 100 percent power
Beaver Valley 2—shut down for refueling outage
Susquehanna 1—shut down for turbine inspection
Susquehanna 2—continued operating at 75 percent power.

Virginia
Surry 1 and 2—continued operating at 100 percent power
North Anna 1 and 2—continued operating at 100 percent power.

Vermont
Vermont Yankee—safely reduced power from 100 percent to 90 percent on Oct. 30 at the request of the regional electric grid operator.

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Updated 10/30 10:00 am ET

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the following news release (body of news release below; emphasis added):

NRC MAINTAINS HEIGHTENED WATCH OVER NUCLEAR PLANTS IMPACTED BY SANDY; THREE REACTORS EXPERIENCED SHUTDOWNS DURING STORM; OYSTER CREEK PLANT REMAINS IN ALERT

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission continues to maintain its heightened watch over nuclear power plants in the Northeastern U.S. impacted by Sandy. Three reactors experienced shutdowns during the storm while another plant, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, remains in an “Alert” due to high water levels in its water intake structure.

The three reactors to experience trips, or shutdowns, during the storm are Nine Mile Point 1 in Scriba, N.Y., Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y.; and 1Salem Unit 1 in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.

Nine Mile Point 1 underwent an automatic shutdown at about 9 p.m. Monday when an electrical fault occurred on power lines used to send power to the grid. It is likely a storm-related event, but the plant’s operators are still evaluating the cause. All plant safety systems responded as designed and the shutdown was safely carried out. Meanwhile, Nine Mile Point 2 experienced a loss of one of two incoming off-site power lines as a result of the fault. One of the plant’s emergency diesel generators started in response to generate power usually provided by the line. Nine Mile Point 2 remained at full power.

Indian Point 3 automatically shut down at about 10:40 p.m. Monday in response to electrical grid disturbances caused by the storm. All safety systems responded as designed and the unit was placed in a safe shutdown condition.

Salem Unit 1 was manually shut down by plant operators at about 1:10 a.m. Tuesday as a result of circulating-water pumps being affected by high river level and debris in the waterway. The circulating-water system is used to cool down steam generated by the reactor; it is a closed system that does not come into contact with any radioactivity.

At Oyster Creek, the Alert was declared at approximately 8:45 p.m. An alert is the second-lowest level of emergency classification used by the NRC. The Alert was preceded by an “Unusual Event” at about 7 p.m. when the water level first reached a minimum high water level criteria. The water level rose due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. While the water level has dropped since peaking earlier today, the Alert will not be exited until the level is below the specific criteria for the intake structure, which is where water from an intake canal is pumped into the plant for cooling purposes. Oyster Creek was shut down for a refueling and maintenance outage prior to the storm and the reactor remains out of service.

The NRC will continue to coordinate with other federal and state agencies prior to the restart of the affected plants.

The NRC stationed inspectors at all of the plants expected to experience the greatest effects of the storm. Those inspectors were tasked with independently verifying that operators were following relevant procedures to ensure plant safety before, during and after the storm.

In addition, the NRC has been monitoring the storm from its emergency response centers.

Nuclear power plant procedures require that the facilities shut down under certain severe weather conditions. The plants’ emergency diesel generators are available if off-site power is lost during the storm. Also, all plants have flood protection above the predicted storm surge, and key components and systems are housed in watertight buildings capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds and flooding.

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Updated 10/30 6:15 am ET

AP / NJ.com looks at how Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant and others in the region are weathering the storm:

The oldest U.S. nuclear power plant, New Jersey’s Oyster Creek, was already out of service for scheduled refueling. But high water levels at the facility, which sits along Barnegat Bay, prompted safety officials to declare an “unusual event” around 7 p.m. About two hours later, the situation was upgraded to an “alert,” the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system.

Conditions were still safe at Oyster Creek, Indian Point and all other U.S. nuclear plants, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees plant safety.

A rising tide, the direction of the wind and the storm’s surge combined to raise water levels in Oyster Creek’s intake structure, the NRC said. The agency said that water levels are expected to recede within hours and that the plant, which went online in 1969 and is set to close in 2019, is watertight and capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds.

The plant’s owner, Exelon Corp., said power was also disrupted in the station’s switchyard, but backup diesel generators were providing stable power, with more than two weeks of fuel on hand.

In other parts of the East Coast, nuclear plants were weathering the storm without incident.

Inspectors from the NRC, whose own headquarters and Northeast regional office were closed for the storm, were manning all plants around the clock. The agency dispatched extra inspectors or placed them on standby in five states, equipped with satellite phones to ensure uninterrupted contact.

Nuclear power plants are built to withstand hurricanes, airplane collisions and other major disasters, but safety procedures call for plants to be shut down when hurricane-force winds are present, or if water levels nearby exceed certain flood limits.

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Updated 10/30 (no time stamp)

AP breaks down Hurricane Sandy impacts by state

##

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Updated 10/29

Jim Conca, PhD, has written a blog post at Forbes: Don’t Politicize Sandy – Hurricane Normal Problem for Nukes

Updated 10/29 11:22 pm CT

Indian Point Energy @Indian_Point

Unit 3 safely shut down @ 10:45 EDT due to external electric grid issues. Unit 2 remains @ full power. NO risk to public or employees.

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Updated 10/29 11:18 PM CT

The New York Times “Tracking Sandy” liveblog reports:

So far, no reactors in Sandy’s path have been forced by the hurricane to shut down, although one in Waterford, Conn., Millstone 3, has lowered its power output to 75 percent. The operator said this was done to assist the New England grid, which would be destabilized if the reactor shut down suddenly from full power, and also to reduce the chance that it would automatically shut down; at 75 percent, Millstone 3 could withstand the loss of a pump without having to close.

Several other reactors in the region are now closed for refueling, which is ordinarily carried out in the spring or fall, when electricity demand is low.

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10/29: Hurricane Sandy has gained strength and is en route to a predicted landfall late this evening, currently projected to be centered on the coast of New Jersey.  This Category 1 storm is very large and dangerous, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 175 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 485 miles from the center.  Residents and emergency preparedness officials in several states have ordered some evacuations of low-lying areas, shutdowns of mass transit, and similar preparations.

NASA satellite image from October 28 of Hurricane Sandy off the U.S. coast.

RESOURCES AND LINKS

You can view US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Current Event Notification Reports HERE.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 10/29  issued a press release outlining preparations and monitoring of the storm.  Nuclear plants receiving enhanced oversight during the storm include: Calvert Cliffs, in Lusby, Md.; Salem and Hope Creek, in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.; Oyster Creek, in Lacey Township, N.J.; Peach Bottom, in Delta, Pa.; Three Mile Island 1, in Middletown, Pa.; Susquehanna, in Salem Township, Pa.; Indian Point, in Buchanan, N.Y.; and Millstone, in Waterford, Conn.

NRC Monday 10/29 afternoon press release: “NRC Continues to Monitor Hurricane Sandy; No Plants Shut Down So Far As a Result of the Storm.”

NRC Tuesday 10/30 morning press release: “NRC maintains heightened watch over nuclear plants impacted by Sandy; Three reactors experienced shutdowns during storm; Oyster Creek plant remains in alert”

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Nuclear energy facilities are designed and built to withstand hurricanes, with a proven track record of success.  The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has an informative outline of general hurricane preparedness procedures now underway at each of the plants expected to be affected. You can also track how nuclear energy plants are responding to Hurricane Sandy via NEI’s blog at NEI Nuclear Notes.

Google has released a very useful interactive Hurricane Sandy tracker map to help those affected keep up-to-date.

Entergy Nuclear press release on Hurricane Sandy preparations.

Dominion Energy advisory to customers in advance of Hurricane Sandy.

Facebook pages from Indian Point Energy Center and power companies and in the affected region which provide storm updates and preparedness information:

Useful Twitter accounts to follow include:

The Twitter blog has posted a comprehensive resource list, broken down by state, of hurricane information and emergency response resources.  In particular, read about how to receive designated tweets via text message if you are concerned about losing power (and the internet).

You can follow—and even contribute to—the Hurricane Sandy liveblog (not focused on nuclear, but a creative way to share experiences online).

DirectTV subscribers, take note of the following message: In order to provide you with the most up to date information, we have set up channels 325 and 349, which will be airing coverage of Hurricane Sandy. Please tune to these channels to get the latest news and developments on the situation.

Sirius-XM satellite radio owners, please note that Sirius-XM has dedicated channels 1 and 184 to Weather Channel reporting on Hurricane Sandy. You can listen to Channel 1 (normally the preview channel) without a current subscription.

Do you have a useful (and credible) link for Hurricane Sandy nuclear-related updates that you don’t see here? Please post and we’ll add it!

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