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ETpro's avatar

What will happen when an F5 tornado hits a nuclear power plant?

Asked by ETpro (34202 points ) June 18th, 2010

The most violent tornadoes, F5 category, have winds in excess of 300 MPH and can pick up automobiles and hurl them like missiles at speeds of over 100 MPH. Strong frame homes are ripped off their foundations and carried through the air like toys. The winds are powerful enough to strip the bark off the trunks of trees. Steel reinforced concrete buildings are heavily damaged. Can we design nuclear power plants that can safely survive this kind of storm, or would we end up with a radioactive tornado after a direct hit?

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24 Answers

CMaz's avatar

Nothing. They are designed to take the abuse. The core is well protected.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I found your question very interesting, so I Googled it and found interesting results. There doesn’t seem to be little, if any, concern because they are built with security procedures that shut it down as soon as there is a tornado warning.

The best post I’ve found so far is the link below. And it explains that the Fugita Scale is based upon the amount of damage and not on the size/strength of a tornado. So, since nuclear power plants aren’t built in a densely populated area, it is unlikely to be labeled an F5.
http://archives.stupidquestion.net/sq52302.html

Seaofclouds's avatar

There are a lot of safety systems in place at nuclear power plants. Most plants can be shut down in a matter of minutes in the event of an emergency. Here is the regulatory guide from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that talks about the design basis of tornado and missiles that power plants should be designed to withstand.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Has you ever seen what a tornado does? If it’s in the direct path, i.e. ground zero, it’s going to destroy everything. I’ve seen a F-1 tornado bend I beams like they were pretzels.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

P.S. The only posts I read were based upon US regulations. Hopefully, other countries with nuclear power plants have have similar security procedures in place.

@Adirondackwannabe Yes, I have seen the damage while living in Chicago, Memphis and Minneapolis. It doesn’t destroy everything. One neighbor’s house was left with nothing but the concrete slab foundation, while the person next door only had broken windows and missing roof shingles. As creepy as it sounds, nuclear reactor basements are a safe shelter during a tornado.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Let me clarify that a little. The tornado has a relatively small footprint. If you’re at the base where it is centered, you don’t have a chance. If you’re 200 feet away, you could be fine. If the reactor is in the direct path, where the thing is centered, it’s done.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I don’t disagree with you, only doubt the statement based upon what I’ve read about the durability of nuclear reactors. Has there been a tornado that has destroyed one, or any facts that it could happen?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Good point. I don’t think one has come close to a reactor yet, but it would be interesting to see what structure has withstood a direct hit by a tornado. Anybody know the answer?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Yes, just Google it or click on the link I posted. And I don’t care how safe a nuclear reactor is built, it would scare the daylights out of me to live near one.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Wait…maybe that is why the electric bill is so much cheaper in TN than in IL. Does anyone know what is generating their electricity? Must do research…

ETpro's avatar

Thanks to all. I appreciate the thoughts, and the link that @Pied_Pfeffer and @Seaofclouds posted are particularly comforting. At least, it has been considered.

JLeslie's avatar

If you are worried about nuclear power, I don’t think the fear of a tornado is reallythe biggest worry. Fail-safes not working, dumping off hot water that kills wildlife http://www.sciencealert.com.au/opinions/20072910-16508.html Terrorist attack on a nuclear plant. Those all sounds even more scary to me. But, I am not sure if you are worried in general about nuclear power or just interested in this very specific question of tornados.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

The reactor itself and the fuel handling area would be undamaged, everything else would be toast. The containment buildings are intended to protect the world from release of radioactive materials, not the entire power plant. It would never operate as a power plant again.

ETpro's avatar

@JLeslie Thanks for the link. From what I know of how containment buildings are engineered, I would guess actually damaging a reactor so there was a release of radioactive material would be about as difficult a feat as any terror plot could even imagine. That seems highly unlikely. I think a much more real threat is poorly guarded storage of spent fuels and radioactive waste. If terrorists got their hands on such material, it would be relatively easy to construct a dirty bomb to spread radiation over an urban area.

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Thanks. Seems spot on.

syzygy2600's avatar

In the Lubbock tornado of 1971 a skyscraper sustained a direct hit form an F5 tornado, the only time in history that has happened. Although the building was twisted in its frame, it still stood, and was repaired and is still standing to this day. I’m sure a nuclear plant is stronger than your average skyscraper, so even in the event of a direct hit I doubt there would be any serious problems.

mattbrowne's avatar

You’d need a hypercane.

ETpro's avatar

@syzygy2600 Thanks. That makes me feel a lot better about the question.

holehead's avatar

Since 3Mile Island I would be very concerned especially where I lived.If I lived near by I would most likely put my head between my legs and kiss my a—goodbye!Sorry!

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ETpro's avatar

The Russians are warily watching the wildfires they are experiencing this summer, because they know that the Chernobyl area’s trees are full of radioactive isotopes they have absorbed from groundwater. If they burn, the smoke from the fires will be radioactive. A VERY sobering thought.

JLeslie's avatar

@ETpro I had not heard that. I need to read up on the fires. Where are you getting your info from? TV, newspaper?

ETpro's avatar

@JLeslie I browse through news aggregators like news.Google.com and Yahoo.com and my local ABC news affiliate’s page WCVB every morning, as well as subscribing to Slate.com and WashinetonPost.com newsletters. I confess—I’m a hopeless news junkie.

It’s been widely reported. Here’s AOL News and here’s the BBC.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Very little. An earthquake could hit a nuclear power plant with little damage. A Tsunami, major flooding, on the other hand, is a different story.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Wow. I just realized this was posted WAY pre-Japan….

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