Cook Nuclear Plant Safety

AEP’s Cook Nuclear Plant is designed to withstand extreme environmental hazards, including tornados, floods and earthquakes.

  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires all nuclear plants to be able to withstand the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for each plant’s geographic area out to 200 miles.
  • Cook is located more than 400 miles from the nearest fault line and is engineered to withstand an earthquake with a magnitude of between 5 and 6.4 on the Richter scale at the plant site, which translates into larger earthquakes as measured at the epicenter.
  • Since Cook is located on Lake Michigan and not an ocean, a tsunami is not possible. However, the plant does have procedures in the event of flooding or a seiche – which is a large wave on an enclosed body of water. The largest seiche on record in the vicinity of Cook Plant was eight feet. Cook is designed maintain availability of equipment required to safely shut down the plant under conditions of an 11 foot seiche or flood.
  • Every U.S. nuclear power plant performs in-depth seismic analyses and the NRC regularly reviews new information on earthquake sources and ground motion models. Regulations are modified accordingly.
  • A tornado is the most likely natural disaster that could challenge safe operation at the Cook Nuclear Plant. The plant can safely shutdown despite the effects of a tornado with a forward progression of 60 mph containing 300 mph winds coincident with an atmospheric pressure drop of 3.0 psi applied within 3 seconds. 
  • Emergency core cooling systems are protected from water incursion, including water tight doors, elevation of equipment above potential flood levels and/or special engineered flood barriers.

Cook has multiple sources of power in the event of natural disasters, hostile actions, equipment failure or some combination of all three.

  • Each of the two Cook reactors has two locomotive-sized emergency backup diesel generators that start automatically if offsite power is lost. Only one is required to safely shut down and cool each reactor. These are located in seismically secure rooms 9 feet above mean lake level. There is also a supplemental diesel generator that could serve either unit that is located 23 feet above mean lake level.
  • Main fuel tanks for emergency diesels are buried underground or enclosed in buildings to prevent impact from severe environments. They cannot float away.
  • Electrical switchgear for emergency operations at the plants is protected from floods by elevating them above potential flood levels or protecting them behind watertight doors.

All U.S. nuclear plants are based on a “defense-in-depth” design, which means multiple physical barriers and multiple backup safety systems ensure safe operations even in extreme environments.

  • Plant foundations, structures and equipment are designed to withstand severe ground motion and flooding.
  • Cook Nuclear Plant has systems and strategies that minimize hydrogen buildup in the containment building, which was likely the source of explosions at Fukushima Units 1 & 3.
  • In an off site power loss, safe shutdown is ensured through multiple redundant systems specifically designed to maintain electric power when electricity is lost from the grid off site.
  • If a used fuel pool were to lose water – even in significant quantities – the Cook Nuclear Plant has the capability to provide water from high-capacity pumps to ensure the pools remain filled. The water supply can be from either public water systems or Lake Michigan.  
  • All U.S. nuclear plants have “Severe Accident Mitigation Guidelines.” The guidelines prescribe actions beyond normal emergency operating procedures and address severe challenges to the reactor core of the kind seen in Japan.
  • These systems are constantly tested, challenged or simulated to ensure proper operation when needed.

All U.S. nuclear plants undergo frequent scenario drills to ensure the proper function of the redundant safety protocols.

  • These drills are managed and overseen by the NRC with collaboration from plant operators and other federal and local emergency agencies, including FEMA. Cook successfully completed one such drill in March of 2011.

Beyond the physical features, U.S. nuclear plants have conservative operating procedures that place nuclear and public safety above all other factors. The industry is already taking a number of actions to make our safe plants even safer.

  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has established an agency task force that will conduct both short- and long-term analysis of the lessons that can be learned from the situation in Japan. The results of their work will be made public.
  • The U.S. nuclear energy industry has already started an assessment of the events in Japan and is taking steps to ensure that U.S. reactors could respond to events that may challenge safe operation of the facilities.

For more information, contact the Cook Energy Information Center, 800-548-2555 or

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Safe, Strong, Secure, Prepared

The Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant is located near Bridgman, Michigan. The dual-unit plant is owned and operated by Indiana Michigan Power, a unit of American Electric Power. At full power, the plants produce 2,100 megawatts of electricity, enough for 1.5 million average homes. The plants began operation in 1975 and 1978, and are licensed until 2034 and 2037 respectively.

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