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COVID-19 News: Nuclear Workers May Live On-Site During Virus Crisis

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Mar 22, 2020

Nuclear Reactor Operators May Live at their Plants

1800x1200_coronavirus_1The New York Times reports via Reuters that the nation’s electric power utilities are planning to set up housekeeping for cadres of healthy workers at the plants to keep the lights on for millions of Americans.

According to the newspaper, the utilities, which include the nation’s nuclear reactor operators, are stockpiling food, beds, and laundry, and other supplies for the workers.

In the past when hurricanes have threatened power stations along the nation’s gulf and east coasts, workers hunkered down for a few days until the storm’s fury had moved on. This time it’s different. The virus crisis that is immobilizing the U.S. economy could last for several months or longer.

See also this report about how one of the nation's largest utilities, Duke Energy, is handling the crisis.
North Carolina nuclear plants brace to operate during coronavirus pandemic

Maria Korsnick, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, told the ‘Times the some of the 60 operating reactors are “considering measures to isolate a core group to run the plant.” She added that they are getting ready to live at the facility for perhaps what could be a considerable period of time.

The reality is there are only a certain number of people who are trained and certified to run the reactors. Keeping them isolated from exposure to the coronavirus is a top priority according to James Slevin, president of the Utility Workers of America which represents 50,000 members. He told the ‘Times utilities are making plans to have the workers spend more time at the plant or remain there between shifts.

EDF Readies Emergency Plans for the French Nuclear Fleet

A business continuity plan that relies on experience with prior pandemics, like the 2003 SARS and 2009 H1N1 events, is being put into motion in France by all business units of the state owned electric utility. The plan includes a provision to have teams on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure minimum staffing levels are maintained at nuclear reactors.

EDF said that during the prior pandemics it experienced absenteeism of up to 40% of the workforce. This time it is mandating work at home arrangements for those workers whose jobs can continue remotely. However, workers who are involved in plant operations, safety, security, maintenance, and other essential on-site functions, will be authorized to use “new operating modes” which include taking up temporary residence at the reactor sites.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 23, 2020

You bring up the very real difference between hurricanes and this situation which is 1) the length of time and 2) the overall uncertainty. I'm curious if this extreme measure is something that nuclear plants had as a contingency plan and they're pulling those strings now, or are these new arrangements being made as they go? I'm wondering whether the workers had an idea this could one day be an option and what sort of incentives are included for those who are working way overtime to keep the plants running during the uncertain times. 

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Mar 23, 2020

As the blog post points out, the nuclear industry learned from the excessive absenteeism it experienced during the SARS and H1N1 pandemics that it needed business continuity plans for the next one, 

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