Jellyfish Keep Attacking Nuclear Power Plants

Jellyfish are continuing to clog the cooling pipes of nuclear power plants around the world.
November 2, 2021, 1:00pm
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A digger drops hundreds of jellyfish crated away after being fished out of the cooling water supply at a power plant in the Israeli Mediterranean coastal city of Hadera, north of Tel Aviv, on June 27, 2017. Image: ACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images 

Jellyfish are continuing to clog the cooling intake pipes of a nuclear power plant in Scotland, which has previously prompted a temporary shutdowns of the plant.

The Torness nuclear power plant has reported concerns regarding jellyfish as far back as 2011, when it was forced to shut down for nearly a week—at an estimated cost of $1.5 million a day—because of the free-swimming marine animals.

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In a short comment to Motherboard, EDF energy, which runs the Torness plant, said that “jellyfish blooms are an occasional issue for our power stations,” but also said that media reports claiming the plant had recently been taken offline because of jellyfish are “inaccurate.” “[There were] no emergency procedures this or last week related to jellyfish or otherwise,” a spokesperson said.

Like many other seaside power plants, the Torness plant uses seawater to prevent overheating. While there are measures in place to prevent aquatic life from entering the intake pipes, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, they are no match for the sheer number of jellyfish that come during so-called “jellyfish blooms.”

“Usually, screens prevent aquatic life and similar debris from being drawn into the power plants’ cooling system,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists wrote in a 2015 blog post. “But when sufficiently large volumes of jellyfish or other aquatic life are pulled in, they block the screens, reducing the volume of water coming in and forcing the reactor to shut down.” 

While the case in Scotland has once again spotlighted concerns regarding the jellyfish and potential power plant shutdowns, these concerns are far from new. In 2008, a swarm of jellyfish shut down a nuclear power plant in California, and three years later the same occurred at a plant in Japan. In 2017, jellyfish clogged a power plant in Israel.

In response to the jellyfish clogging the plant in Scotland, a commercial drone company called RUAS reportedly asked the Scottish Civil Aviation Authority to allow it to fly surveillance drones over the area, according to the Scottish Herald. 

However, researchers at the University of Cranfield have already been conducting a pilot as part of the UK Drones Pathfinder Programme which uses medium-altitude drones as “part of an early warning system which will allow the adjustment of water-cooling mechanisms to protect both electricity generation and the environment.” 

“Any industry on the coast which uses seawater can find its operations complicated when seaweed or jellyfish blooms impact protective systems,” Angus Bloomfield, a marine biologist, is quoted as saying in a press release from the University of Cranfield. “They can damage machinery and even stop power generation, which could threaten stability of the electricity grid. An early warning system involving drones could allow industries in marine environments to act early and avoid the most dramatic effects these events can bring.”