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Twelve nuclear power plants along the Eastern Seaboard are getting ready to shut down operations in the event that Hurricane Irene makes conditions too dangerous.The stations, located in nine different states, operate a combined 20 nuclear reactors, according to Reuters. For now all of the plants are continuing to operate, but are beefing up staff and checking safety systems to try and avoid what could be one of the largest power outages in history.
The federal government requires plants to shut down operations 12 hours before hurricane conditions — sustained winds above 75mph — are due to hit, but flooding and debris can present operating problems even when high winds are not a factor.
Nuclear shutdowns could cause widespread power outages across the East Coast, plunging an estimated 65 million people into one of the largest blackouts ever caused by a storm. A shutdown at New York’s Indian Point plant — located about 35 miles from midtown Manhattan — would affect up to 2 million people.
If Irene is as massive as expected, the storm will test the resilience of the nuclear stations, which have been under scrutiny since Japan’s Fukushima disaster. Fortunately, unlike in Japan, the backup generators that cool nuclear systems in the event of an outside power outage are located behind flood-proof walls in U.S. nuclear plants, according to Bloomberg.