Mussels Shuts Down Nuclear Plant

Lake Ontario's Zebra and Quagga mussels appear to be behind the surge of seaweed that has shut down the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant three times in the past two months, scientists said. The FitzPatrick plant, on the lakeshore in Scriba, was shut down Sept. 12, Oct. 14 and Oct. 28 when seaweed clogged filters, reducing the amount of water available to cool the reactor. The shutdown costs the plant between $1.5 million and $2 million a day in lost revenue, according to federal figures.

The seaweed, called Cladophora, is a "filamentous algae," that grows in fine strands and isn’t edible by the zebra and Quagga mussels that have so successfully made Lake Ontario home. The mussels eat all sorts of free-floating algae - that's how they've managed to make Lake Ontario, Onondaga Lake and other bodies of water in Central New York so much clearer. Lake waters cleared of algae by the mussels allow more sunshine to penetrate deeper, encouraging Cladophora to spread to more of the lake bottom. Then, as winds blows, choppy waters scrub Cladophora from the lake bottom. The fine strands piled up so densely, he said, water couldn't pass through. In two of the three incidents, operators had to scram the plant - that is, drive control rods into the reactor to snuff the nuclear reaction as quickly as possible. That procedure is usually associated with emergencies and it's one the Nuclear Regulatory Commission watches closely.

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