Hurricane Matthew and the NRC — UPDATE Part II

UPDATE 2:  The NRC’s Region II Incident Response Center was staffed throughout the weekend due to Hurricane Matthew. In all, three plants entered unusual event classifications for storm-related reasons, including electrical grid instability. In addition to the update below on the St. Lucie plant, two other plants, Harris and Robinson, experienced brief losses of offsite power due to the effects of the hurricane. At those two sites, the emergency diesel generators started automatically and provided power until the grid stabilized. — Joey Ledford

UPDATE: While our thoughts are with the people who lost power or suffered damages in the storm, the St. Lucie nuclear plant experienced winds below hurricane strength and did not lose off-site power. The plant’s safety equipment and systems were not affected by the storm and both units remain safely shut down pending a “Disaster Initiated Review.” The review will ensure that evacuation routes are clear and emergency services are available. The units cannot restart until that review is conducted jointly by the NRC and FEMA. The NRC continues to monitor Hurricane Matthew, and will decide later today whether to continue to staff its incident response center in Atlanta. — Joey Ledford

Joey Ledford
Public Affairs Officer
Region II

It’s hard to believe, but no major hurricane has made landfall in the continental United States since 2005. Hurricane Wilma came ashore in southwest Florida in October of that year as a Category 3 storm, but then skirted the peninsula and went back into the Atlantic.

pathDuring this record respite of 11 years, the NRC never stopped training and preparing for big storms, including major hurricanes. Storm preparations were an important part of the post-Fukushima enhancements that have made U.S. commercial nuclear plants safer.

This week, a mammoth storm known as Hurricane Matthew is stalking Florida’s East Coast, having already taken its toll on Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas. The NRC and the companies that operate nuclear facilities began preparations for Matthew long before its anticipated path was clear.

Late Tuesday, the staff at Florida Power and Light’s St. Lucie plant in Port St. Lucie, not far from the predicted landfall, declared an unusual event, the lowest of NRC’s emergency classifications, because of the hurricane warning. The plant staff began severe weather procedures, which include making sure any equipment or debris that could be affected by wind or water has been removed or secured. Staff also conducted walk downs of important plant systems and ensured emergency supplies were adequate.

Similar work was being done at Turkey Point, south of Miami, another FPL plant, and at Brunswick, a Duke Energy station near Southport, N.C.

The NRC’s resident inspectors at each plant, meanwhile, worked to verify the storm preparations were completed as expected, paying special attention to the condition of emergency diesel generators that would be used if the plants lose offsite power.

The NRC maintains 24-hour staffing at any plant expected to experience hurricane-force winds. Since the resident inspectors live near the plant and need to take care of their families and homes, other agency personnel are dispatched to storm sites to help with staffing. One resident inspector from Tennessee volunteered to drive to southeastern North Carolina to staff Brunswick. Some other inspectors at or near the plants on other inspection duties volunteered to stay and provide staffing.

The NRC’s Region II Incident Response Center in Atlanta will be staffed around the clock during the storm, monitoring its path while keeping in contact with plant operators, NRC on-site inspectors, state emergency officials in the affected states and NRC headquarters.

Previous hurricanes have shown that nuclear plants are robust facilities that can withstand extremely high winds and storm surges. As Matthew approaches, the NRC is working to ensure plant operators have taken actions to protect the plants, safely shut down if necessary and ensure power is available to keep the plants in a safe condition until the storm has passed.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

14 thoughts on “Hurricane Matthew and the NRC — UPDATE Part II”

  1. Michael, how can they do this monthly, as the requirements seem to preclude it
    Mode 1 Reactor is Running, Critical, above 5%

    Mode 2 Reactor is Running, Critical, below 5%

    Mode 3 Reactor not running, but reactor water temp above 350F

    Mode 4 Reactor not running, and reactor water temp between 200F and 350F

    Mode 5 Reactor not running, and reactor water temp less than 200F

    Mode 6 Reactor not running, and at least 1 reactor head bolt loosened

    The “real tests” of making the Gensets (DGs) carry the actual emergency loads is not allowed in the above red highlighted Modes….ie.. when they are running or warm. See screen capture below.

    Section 3.8.1 Describes the DG testing

    570 Page Westinghouse Reactor Standard Tech Specs

  2. Typically the reviews can be completed in a day or two, but the time it takes for a post-storm review obviously varies based on the amount of damage and any emergency services affected such as the warning sirens, 911 system or evacuation routes. The goal of the review is to complete it as soon as possible after the storm while ensuring that people living and working near the plant would be protected if there were an event that required residents to evacuate or take some other action.

    Nuclear plant outages, especially planned refueling outages, are usually scheduled in the spring and fall when electricity demand is lower. There are events, such as storms or unplanned equipment issues, that may cause a nuclear plant to shut down when there were no plans to do so, but companies that operate nuclear plants plan outages very carefully to try to ensure an adequate supply of electricity for the areas they serve.

    Roger Hannah
    Senior Public Affairs Officer/Region II

  3. Thanks Moderator. How long does it typically take for the NRC & FEMA to complete their post-storm reviews before a nuke plant can be safely restarted?
    Also it seems that having two base-load nuclear units out of service at the same time was very poor planning. With one unit down for refueling was a second nuke unit then forced from service? If so what was the cause of that outage?

  4. St. Lucie’s unit 1 remains in a refueling outage; unit 2 is undergoing maintenance unrelated to the hurricane. The Harris plant is in a scheduled refueling outage. The Robinson nuclear power plant is at 100 percent power.

    Moderator

  5. I appreciate the updates NRC. I am glad these affected nuclear power plants did not cause other safety issues for Florida residents. But the simple fact remains that these plants were & are still not available to provide the much needed electricity to support recovery efforts. This essential power must be imported at considerable additional cost to those folks already suffering from storm damage-related cleanup costs.
    And to think reviews by the NRC & FEMA still need to be conducted before these nuke plants can be restarted. At a time when FEMA is already overloaded dealing with real problems, they also must have to deal with these shutdown nukes. The NRC notes these nukes are “robust”. Robust from what I note?!
    Not being there when needed & being out of service for God knows how long after a storm has passed does not meet my definition of robust.

  6. Nuke plants are never there when you really need them. Those much maligned coal & oil-fired units are there when you need them. Thank God environmental whackos haven’t succeeded in shutting them all down yet. And where were those wind generators & solar power plants?! AWOL as well!

  7. The emergency generators at nuclear plants get mandatory full load testing once a month as part of the plant’s operating license. You can find the operating license technical specifications on the St Lucie plant page on the NRC website.

  8. The blog post outlines actions being taken. If we need to update the post tomorrow, we will do so.

    Moderator

  9. Thanks, are the other plants actively testing their backup gensets and switchgears today or yesterday. Loss of outside power seems a given.

    Do they have load banks to test them under load or is the ability to carry load just assumed if they start up?

  10. Only St. Lucie is shutting down unless something changes. Most plant procedures call for shutting down a certain number of hours prior to the onset of winds of a designated strength, although there is some variation in the exact specifications from site to site.

    At St. Lucie, Unit 1 was already shut down for a refueling outage and Unit 2 began shutting down this morning and should be shut down by this evening.

    Roger Hannah

  11. “…no major hurricane has made landfall in the continental United States since 2005.”
    What about Hurricane Irene in 2011? I watched the eye of that storm pass over my house in northwest Connecticut as it travelled inland to wreak havoc on most of Vermont. What about Hurricane / “Superstorm” Sandy in 2012? Ask people in New Jersey and Staten Island, NY on whether that made landfall!

    Both of these storms were likely no longer considered hurricanes by the time they hit the Northeast United States, but I would hardly consider either of these as a respite! (Well, maybe for Florida.)

  12. Isn’t the rule to shut down nuke plants in the path of a hurricane?

    So which nuclear plants in the possible path are now shut down? the cooler they are, the better, in my book

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