Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Three Florida Nuclear Reactors Shut Down in Wake of Wilma

Hurricane Wilma has left 6 million Florida residents without power, and forced Florida Power and Light to shut down reactors at St. Lucie and Turkey Point as the hurricane approached:

FPL shut the 839-megawatt unit 2 at the St. Lucie nuclear power station and both 693 MW units at the Turkey Point nuclear power station as Wilma approached the Florida coast.

Nuclear power plants are robust structures built to sustain hurricane-force winds and other natural disasters but the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires the operators to shut the plants in advance of hurricane-force winds.

Officials at FPL said it was still too early to conduct a full assessment but initial reports showed the storm did not damage any of the company's power plants.

The 2,205 MW Turkey Point station is located in Florida City, in Miami-Dade County, about 25 miles south of Miami.

The 1,678 MW St Lucie station is located on Hutchinson Island, in St Lucie County, about 120 miles north of Miami. There are two 839 MW units 1 and 2 at St Lucie.

The company shut unit 1 for a planned eight-week refueling outage over the weekend of October 15-16.
Here's a statement from the NRC that was issued yesterday afternoon:
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has deactivated its headquarters and regional response centers that were monitoring Hurricane Wilma. The storm has moved past two nuclear power plants and storm damage to the sites is minimal. Further onsite and offsite inspections by NRC staff and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will determine the plants' abilities to restart in the near future.

Earlier, the St. Lucie plant, near Ft. Pierce, and the Turkey Point plant, 25 miles south of Miami, were shut down before the storm. All safety systems at both plants are working normally and both plants continue to receive power from the region's electrical grid.

The NRC continues to maintain contact with plant personnel and NRC inspection staff on site. Backup communication methods are available at both sites if normal communications are lost. Communication links are also established and maintained with state emergency response officials and other federal response agencies.
Our thoughts are with our friends at Florida Power and Light who are out in the field trying to get the power restored to the grid. For more on the utility's efforts to restore power to its customers, click here and here.

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Paul Gunter said...

Hi folks,

Central to understanding why 2 of the 3 Florida reactor sites shutdown in advance of Hurricane Wilma is the fact that U.S. nuclear power stations are incapable of blackstart operations or operating as electrical generators independent of grid power for primary and backup reactor safety systems.

This event once again points out further concern in context of national security and US energy policy that an assault on the electrical grid system whether by severe weather systems (ice, hurricanes, tornados,lightning storms)or coordinated and persistant attacks on these very vulnerable grid corridors would SCRAM reactors and place them in less secure positions on emergency diesel generators for safety systems. All of NRC's Operational Safequard Response Actions begin with the assumption that terrorists disable vulnerable offsite power supplies before going after the EDGs and other target sets.

Paul, NIRS

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gunter,
The main reason why nuclear power plants are shutdown during hurricanes or reduce electrical output power is because they lose their customers! Indeed, as trees fall on power lines and wind cuts power poles all over the service territory, the customers are "disconnected" from the electrical grid. Since, as you know, large amounts of electricity are difficult to store for use later, the large electrical power generators (ie, the nuclear power plants) need to stop producing electricity because it cannot go anywhere if generated. Having been in the control room of a nuclear power plant directly affected by a hurricane a couple of years ago, I can ensure you that the operators are indeed prepared to react very professionally when the grid's customers "disappear."
Your statement about "blackstart operations" is misleading... Please explain to your readers what you mean exactly. By definition, being in a blackstart situation means you are not operating the power plant (whatever kind it might be).

Paul Gunter said...

Mr. Anonymous,

Thank you for your response...

I'll offer a definition for "blackstart" generation from the Mid Atlantic Area Council.


There is no disputing that U.S. nuclear power stations are not capable of participating in putting the lights back on following a blackout caused by whatever (weather, aging equipment, terrorism). In fact, they are completely dependent on and must be prioritized (even over hospitals as was the case following Hurricane Andrew) for grid re-energization from combustion-driven and hydroelecteric generators.

My concern remains with extended transmission grid unavailability occuring coincident with the loss or deliberate disabling (as in sabotage) of onsite emergency power systems for nuclear power stations and the risks associated with station blackout rise precipitiously.

Recent Hurricanes Isabel, Katrina and Wilma as well as the August 14, 2003 blackout are repeated examples of a long, long recognized vulnerability of the US nuclear power industry and risks associated with Station Blackout. NRC has been focused on plant-centered events, weather-related events, and grid disturbances for its risk analysis with Station Blackout. However, not nearly enough has been done about "security related attacks" on tranmission lines that compound reactor safety risks.

More good arguments for accelerating the movement to distributed renewable energy generation and a more durable and secure energy system.

Paul, NIRS