A lot of times, when we talk about issues surrounding nuclear energy, the first worries are typically radioactivity and the threat of nuclear weapons. This is totally understandable--these are very real and intimidating threats to our survival and well-being. However, another topic I’d like to cover today is what happens when nuclear energy plants close down and cut off access to electricity.
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity. We currently have 98 operating nuclear power reactors in 30 states, and these reactors generate about 20% of the total electricity in our country.
Our world is no stranger to widespread blackouts caused by malfunctions or shutdowns of nuclear reactors. We are all vulnerable to power outages due to issues at nuclear plants. We never know when unforeseen circumstances will cause damage to these reactors--so it’s important to prepare accordingly for a loss of power.
Read on to learn about what happened in Belgium and Japan when they experienced significant nuclear blackouts--and discover tips on how to prepare if a nuclear blackout were to occur in your area.
Belgium October 2018
According to the World Bank, Belgium is the 12th best nation for quality of electricity supply. That’s why it was surprising that, as a developed European nation, it experienced its own energy crisis this past winter.
Last October, six of the seven reactors responsible for supplying 40% of Belgium’s electricity closed. The result was a significant power deficiency in the months leading up to a cold winter.
Three of the reactors were closed when “concrete degradation” at the Tihange nuclear power plant resulted in the closure of its three reactors. Then, three additional reactors at Belgium’s second nuclear plant near Antwerp were closed due to planned repairs.
As Power Technology shared, “The loss of reactors across the colder period could lead to energy shortfalls and it is up to the whole country to mitigate this.”
Grid operator Elia prepared to ration electricity during the winter months. Citizens were concerned about potential blackouts and train standstills. In an attempt to prepare citizens, the government suggested people iron less and use just one pot to cook in an effort to conserve energy.
The country also made an updated emergency “load shedding” plan in case temperatures dropped in the following months and demand outstripped the limited electricity supply.
This included regulations such as…
- Switching off motorway lights.
- Suspending industrial production.
- Launching rolling three-hour blackouts in homes nationwide.
Although a gas-fired power plant was restarted to fill some of the supply gap, the situation for the months of January and February were unclear. As Reuters reported in October, the reactors were expected to come back online between late November and June. By February 6, 2019, four of the six that had originally shut down were still out of commission, but by March 18, six of the seven were back up and running.
While Belgium’s nuclear outage was the result of planned and unplanned repairs, Japan experienced a nuclear-related outage due to a different reason. As you may recall, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011. Amongst the obvious devastation, one of the terrifying outcomes of the disaster was that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered various malfunctions.
The plant was lost to the national power grid, resulting in a power shortfall of 10 million kilowatts. This was unfortunate because, as the BBC reported, “the resource-poor country depends on nuclear energy for about a quarter of its electricity. Out of Japan's 54 reactors, 11 are closed.”
The government ordered energy rationing in order to conserve energy in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that crippled nuclear reactors. Millions of Japanese citizens were affected for weeks.
Take the example of Japanese resident Hiroka Shoji. She and her family moved into one room to try to reduce electricity consumption. As the BBC reported, “She has stockpiled extra batteries and food, and the bath has been filled with water so the family will be able to flush the toilet in preparation.”
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan acknowledged the related difficulties such as the disruption to gas and water supplies and medical treatment. Another resident south of Tokyo shared that petrol stations had sold out of fuel and the few shops that were open were out of basic food and bottled water. They described "a sense of quiet panic" in the air as the country went through this period of time.
5 Tips to Prepare for a Similar Situation
A forced shutdown of a nuclear power reactor can happen due to a range of reasons, such as equipment failure, operational error, or environmental conditions. Unplanned outages can also occur due to external reasons such as severe weather.
Whether outages be planned or unplanned, the reality of the situation is that they do happen. And you don’t want to be caught unprepared when and if they do. Keep the following five tips in mind while prepping for a potential loss of power...
#1: Make sure you have enough nonperishable food. Without power, you won’t be able to keep your food cold, and grocery stores without power for long periods of time will close. Stock up on a supply of nonperishable food that will last you for several days or even weeks.
#2: Have a backup generator on hand. If your power goes out for days or weeks on end, you’ll be grateful if you preemptively purchased a backup generator. Most portable generators are able to power the refrigerator, a light, and a small 1500W space heater. Alternatively, you can use a wood stove or fireplace.
#3: Understand alternative water purification techniques. When power goes, your purified water is also likely to go. Therefore, stock up on water purification alternatives, such as a Survival Spring personal water filter or germicidal tablets.
#4: Stock up on alternative light and power sources. When the power goes out, you’ll want to have radios, flashlights, chargers, and other appliances that can be powered by fuel, batteries, hand-crank, and solar.
#5: Layer your clothes to stay warm. If and when the power goes out during colder temperatures, be sure to wear gloves, hats, scarves, and wool socks, as well as options for layering your clothing.
Keep the above tips in mind, as they will come in handy in any blackout situation--whether it be nuclear-related or not.
As always, stay vigilant, aware, and prepared.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply