When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, displacing thousands of people and causing widespread devastation, Entergy’s Waterford 3 nuclear energy facility safely withstood the storm and quickly aided in the local relief efforts.
Hours of training, a focus on continuous safety enhancement and lessons learned from previous events ensured that the facility and Entergy’s employees were fully prepared when Katrina moved onshore on Aug. 29, 2005. Waterford is located 20 miles west of New Orleans.
Jack Lewis, Waterford 3’s emergency preparedness manager from 1996 to 2010, said Hurricane Katrina was unique because hurricane advisories from the National Weather Service shifted the storm track an unprecedented 100 miles, from the Florida Panhandle westward to the Louisiana Gulf Coast, in just six hours. A storm that had initially appeared to be of little consequence to Waterford 3 was now heading directly toward the facility.
Despite the sudden warning, Entergy’s employees had long been preparing for this type of situation.
Every year prior to hurricane season, the facility’s staff inspects the site to identify vulnerable areas and to secure equipment. The facility also holds an orientation for all employees to review the site’s emergency response plan and ensures that each staff member is aware of his or her responsibilities in the case of an extreme event.
As an additional precaution, the plant’s management coordinates with local emergency preparedness officials in St. Charles Parish to review hurricane scenarios and discuss how they will work together to prepare for a storm.
The facility’s “comprehensive hurricane response procedure was built over a number of various storms to capture lessons learned from the event as well as lessons learned from other businesses in the region, including the chemical and oil industries,” said Lewis.
When the threat from Hurricane Katrina became apparent, plant staff quickly established a command center to coordinate the facility’s response, supported by Entergy’s corporate response center in Jackson, Miss. The command center was the focal point of communication with state and local government officials, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the facility’s staff.
The plant established a duty roster consisting of two sets of operations crews that remained on-site throughout the storm, enabling employees to work in shifts. Two Nuclear Regulatory Commission resident inspectors were also on-site throughout the storm and served as liaisons to the agency’s regional office in Arlington, Texas.
Waterford 3 worked so closely with the local government’s emergency response staff that Lewis was the first industry person notified that St. Charles Parish would be evacuated on Aug. 27. The plant’s emergency response team – trained in keeping the facility safe during extreme events – was given time to secure their homes and ensure the safety of their families before reporting to work well ahead of Katrina’s arrival. Waterford 3’s emergency sirens were used by the local government to notify the community of the parish evacuation.
As the strong category 3 storm neared, plant personnel conducted another training exercise on dealing with the loss of off-site power and procedures for a safe plant shutdown. Waterford 3 is required by its operating procedures to shut down the reactor at least 12 hours before hurricane-force winds arrive on-site. This was done on the afternoon of Aug. 28, well in advance of any threat of hurricane force winds.
The 138 employees on-site and in the command center were moved into the reactor auxiliary building, the facility’s safest area before weather conditions deteriorated. When the hurricane cut Waterford 3 from the off-site power grid on the morning of Aug. 29, the facility’s two diesel generators maintained power for reactor cooling and other functions until the lines were reconnected on Sept. 2.
When the storm knocked out the plant’s communication system, the staff was ready, using satellite phones to stay in contact with government officials and Entergy’s corporate office. All employees remained safely inside until the storm passed and the recovery phase began.
By Sept. 13, Waterford 3 was back online, providing electricity to power thousands of homes and businesses and helping with the emergency relief efforts. The site also served as a staging area for the massive restoration effort in southeast Louisiana, housing more than 700 utility workers and tree trimmers that arrived at the facility from around the country to help repair Entergy’s battered transmission system.
“The good part of the story about Katrina is that the nuclear plant was not the story,” said Lewis. “The nuclear plant functioned and responded as it was supposed to, and the safety systems operated as they were designed to.”