Duke Energy has six nuclear plants located in the Carolinas and they generate nearly half of all the power needed for their customers.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Duke Energy has implemented their business continuity plans – designed to ensure critical functions available for their staff and plants. Actions that are already being taken include social distancing, a no-visitor policy, increased cleaning at the plants, and screening measures for each employee before they enter the facility. In addition, Duke has directed their non-essential employees (employees not involved with power generation or other critical functions) to work from home.
However, some areas of a nuclear plant, such as the control room, cannot be operated remotely and are staffed by rotating shift crews. These crews consist of non-licensed operators, reactor operators, senior reactor operators, shift supervisor, shit technical advisor, and a shift manager.
As the coronavirus continues to spread, the electric industry is considering asking their essential staff to live onsite at their power plant and/or control center to maintain operations, and have been stockpiling beds, blankets, and food. These contingency plans, if enacted, would mark an unprecedented step by power providers to keep their highly skilled workers healthy as both private industry and governments scramble to minimize the impact of the global pandemic that has infected ~ 645,619 people worldwide and caused ~29,973 deaths.
According to Scott Aaronson, vice president of security and preparedness at the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the nation’s biggest power industry association, “The focus needs to be on things that keep the lights on and the gas flowing,” and some “companies are already either sequestering a healthy group of their essential employees or they are considering doing that and are identifying appropriate protocols to do that.”
Maria Korsnick, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), said that some of the nation’s nearly 60 nuclear power plants are also “considering measures to isolate a core group to run the plant, stockpiling ready-to-eat meals and disposable tableware, laundry supplies, and personal care items.”
According to Korsnick, the nuclear industry has maintained business continuity and pandemic preparedness guidance and procedures since 2006. This planning identified options that the industry could take should absenteeism rise to very high levels. As a result, essential personnel needed in the event of a pandemic, have been identified with particular emphasis on the reactor operating crew(s) and their availability.
Operator crew staffing is a regulatory requirement and was designed to accommodate some absenteeism. The staffing requirements are stated within each plant’s Technical Specifications – therefore, should a facility not meet the required shift manning, it would require a plant shutdown.
All of our nuclear plants are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the reactor operators / senior reactor operators are licensed by the NRC therefore, the NRC has the authority to require a plant shutdown if necessary – NRC inspectors are located at each nuclear station to directly monitor plant operations, including shift manning.
With all of this in mind, you can see why the electrical industry is considering the option of keeping their essential staff living onsite – which could become the final outcome until the coronavirus is under control.