Lake Erie Heat Wave Threatens Nuclear Plants’ Cooling Systems
The high temperatures and low water levels in Lake Erie have brought two nuclear plants close to having to shut down their reactors.
The northern Ohio plants rely on Lake Erie’s chilly water to cool down the facilities. But the lake has been warm this summer and came close to the 85-degree limit that requires the plants to stop generating electricity.
FirstEnergy Corp., which operates the two plants, has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to raise the temperature cutoff to 90 degrees at Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, spokesman Todd Schneider said Monday. The Akron-based company also may request that Perry’s limit be raised to 88 degrees, he said.
“Engineering studies show we can operate if the water temperature is higher than 85 degrees,” Schneider said.
The NRC will decide in the next few weeks whether the Davis-Besse plant’s cooling systems could function properly with the warmer water, said spokesman Jan Strasma.
He said the last time a nuclear plant came close to passing the water-temperature limit was four years ago.
“This doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “Our staff was on standby that weekend. We won’t do anything to compromise safety, but we try to keep the plants operating.”
The two plants use Lake Erie water to run their emergency cooling systems, which can quickly shut down the plants in an accident.
The lake’s temperature near the Perry plant peaked at 84.7 degrees on July 31, Schneider said. It was 83.7 degrees at Davis-Besse that same day, he said.
Temperatures that day were in the mid-90s along Erie’s shores. Because the lake is at its lowest point in 30 years, the water is warmer than usual, Schneider said.
“It’s several unique circumstances coming together. It’s usually not that hot and the water level is two to three feet below normal,” he said.