If you’re a fan of “Scorpion,” you undoubtedly watched episode 15, Wave Goodbye, on Jan. 29. And, if you’re a nuclear energy fan, you noticed the inaccurate details about nuclear energy in the episode. While a nuclear plant threatened by a tsunami offers a tempting problem for Team Scorpion, the reality is much less dramatic than the show portrays. We’ve dispelled some of the myths spotted in this episode.
Nuclear power plants are designed to withstand extreme forces such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis
The episode begins with Happy, a team member, providing an update on the team’s next assignment: find and repair “moderate cracking” in the walls of the reactor core due to a recent earthquake. As the story evolves, we also learn that a tsunami is also heading toward the plant. Although it makes an interesting plot line, the truth is, nuclear plants – from the steel reactor vessel that houses the fuel to the steel-reinforced concrete containment building – are physically designed to withstand extreme forces such as earthquakes and flooding.
For example, all U.S. nuclear plants are designed to withstand earthquakes of a magnitude that is equivalent to or greater than the largest known tremor for the region where it is built. Each nuclear plant also has seismic instrumentation to record earthquake-induced motions. Plant operators use the recordings to evaluate the level of earthquake vibrations at the site and determine if it must shut down.
Nuclear plants are also well-equipped to manage flooding and potential problems it could cause, such as loss of power and cooling capability. For instance, all U.S. nuclear plants have additional, portable equipment, including pumps and generators kept both on and off site for use in the unlikely event of an emergency.
While the characters on the show panicked at the thought of a tsunami approaching, comprehensive, well-practiced emergency plans and procedures mean our nuclear plants are prepared for these types of extreme events.
Nuclear energy facilities are rigorously maintained
From wall cracks to corroded steam pipes, the episode gives the impression that nuclear plants aren’t well-maintained. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Nuclear plant equipment is continuously monitored and evaluated to determine what needs to be upgraded or replaced. Although plants may have been built decades ago, they’re actually modern operations because most components have been replaced over time. Our nuclear professionals are also evaluating better ways to electronically monitor plant structures and systems to perform maintenance more efficiently.
And, unlike Happy, all nuclear workers wear proper protective equipment and ensure conditions are safe before beginning an evaluation or performing maintenance. In some situations, such as working with fuel, robots are used to further reduce any risk. Although it was a relief to see Happy emerge unhurt from entering an active steam pipe, it’s not something workers do.
Nuclear plants are well-staffed with highly trained, educated workers
When the team first arrives at the nuclear plant, they’re greeted by only one person, Maria. In fact, the plant seems to have been abandoned. Nuclear workers are not only highly educated to perform their normal job duties, but also go through extensive emergency preparedness training.
In the event of a real emergency at a nuclear plant, a team of well-trained plant employees would assemble to implement emergency procedures and continue to ensure the health and safety of the public and employees.
There were a number of other inaccuracies shown during the episode, including information on containment, pressurizing the reactor and more. Additional information is available on nuclear plant operations whether you are interested in pressurized water nuclear reactors or boiling water nuclear reactors.
Although it wouldn’t have made for a great “Scorpion” episode, an outside team of intelligent misfits isn’t required to address unlikely challenges at nuclear power plants – our workers have all the knowledge and expertise required to keep our nuclear plants operating safely and reliably around the clock.