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NRC Continues to Respond to Irma

Update (Sept. 12, 2017 4:15 p.m. EST):

Late Monday afternoon, Hurricane Irma had diminished to the point that the NRC exited monitoring mode and stopped staffing the Region II Incident Response Center in Atlanta. (The Operations Center at NRC headquarters in Maryland remains staffed 24/7 as usual.) Neither the Turkey Point nuclear plant nor the St. Lucie nuclear plant, both in Florida, lost offsite power during the storm, and both units at each plant are expected to be operating again this week. St. Lucie Unit 2 remained at full power throughout the storm, and Florida Power & Light tells the NRC it expects to restart St. Lucie Unit 1 today after local emergency management officials confirm they could implement their emergency plans for the plant. FPL has also indicated that it plans to restart both units at Turkey Point after emergency officials in South Florida provide the same assurances for the site. The NRC has returned to its normal inspection and oversight of Turkey Point, St. Lucie, and the other plants in the Southeast and will begin to evaluate lessons learned from Hurricane Irma in preparation for future storms that may affect nuclear plants.

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer, Region II

(Sept. 11, 2017): As Irma (now a tropical storm) continues to track through the southeast, the NRC continues to monitor its path and the nuclear power plants potentially along that route.

Turkey Point Unit 3, in south Florida, remains safely shut down, as it has been since Saturday. Operators at the Turkey Point plant shut down Unit 4 just before 7 p.m. Sunday evening due to a valve issue. The shutdown was uncomplicated, the plant is in a safe condition, and winds and rain have diminished at the site such that the plant staff exited their declaration of an unusual event at 4 a.m. Three NRC resident inspectors remain at the site, but the agency is now assessing steps to return to its normal inspection staffing within the next day or two.

At St. Lucie, also in Florida, operators are reducing power on Unit 1 due to salt buildup on insulators in the switchyard that supplies offsite power and plant employees are working to resolve this situation. St. Lucie Unit 2 remains at full power. Two NRC resident inspectors remain at the site, but it is expected that NRC will return to normal inspection staffing at this site, also within a day or two.

As of Monday morning, the Region II Incident Response Center staff is monitoring potential effects from the storm on the Hatch nuclear plant in south Georgia and the Farley nuclear plant in south Alabama. The two units at Hatch and the two units at Farley are currently at full power. Even though the staffs at both sites have completed storm preparations, it appears that projected winds will not be strong enough to affect plant operations at these two locations.

The NRC’s Region II continues to be in monitoring mode and the Incident Response Center in Atlanta is staffed. However, predicted wind and rain from the storm has prompted the closure of the Region II office as well as other federal agencies in the area.

Natural Hazards Are Part of the Planning

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

 

Up to now the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season has been pretty calm, but the NRC always keeps an eye out for the strong weather-related events and other natural events the world can generate. We make sure both U.S. nuclear power plants and the agency are prepared for high winds, storm surge and a whole lot more.

Most recently, the seven reactors affected by 2012’s Superstorm Sandy remained safe. Other plants have safely withstood powerful storms, including Waterford 3 in Louisiana handling the effects of 2005’s Katrina and Turkey Point in Florida safely taking a direct hit from 1992’s Andrew.

Sandy may have left a mess in New York, but the nuclear reactors in its wake remained safe. Photo courtesy of FEMA

Sandy left a mess in New York, but the nuclear reactors in its wake remained safe. Photo courtesy of FEMA

Flooding can happen with or without storms, and U.S. plants are designed to and safely ride out significant events, such as when Fort Calhoun in Nebraska dealt with an overflowing Missouri River in 2011. Also in that year, Vermont Yankee remained safe as the Connecticut River valley suffered severe short-term floods from Hurricane Irene’s remnants.

Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear accident in March 2012 showed the world what flooding (in this case from a tsunami) can do to a reactor. The NRC’s learned several flooding-related lessons. from the accident. As a result of NRC direction, U.S. plants are using the latest software and technical know-how to re-analyze all flooding sources. This will help the NRC determine if the plants need to consider higher flooding water levels when establishing plans to stay safe. This effort has also examined existing flood protection and all plants have taken steps to confirm they can implement reliable flood safety plans. In the meantime, several plants have also chosen to enhance their flood protection.

An earthquake caused the tsunami that devastated Fukushima, and again U.S. plants are designed to stay safe in the face of quakes that affect their area. Virginia’s North Anna plant was hit by an August 2011 quake centered a short distance away. The earthquake was strong enough to be felt across the East Coast; it shook North Anna with a little more force than what the plant was originally designed to withstand. North Anna remained safe – multiple inspections showed the plant’s systems were undamaged. This was unsurprising, since plant systems are designed to withstand a combination of events that can exceed the forces generated by an earthquake alone.

As with flooding, the NRC has learned from Fukushima’s quake and other recent earthquakes, and we’re having every U.S. plant reanalyze earthquake hazards to see where enhancements might be needed. All the plants east of the Rockies have taken the first step in that process, and the other plants will do the same next March.

U.S. reactors are also designed for (and have safely survived) hazards such as tornadoes, droughts and other severe weather events. Even with all this preparation, Fukushima reminds us to prepare for the unexpected. The NRC’s approach here involves every U.S. reactor having additional portable systems to restore and maintain safety functions.

All of this work helps ensure the public stays safe when natural disasters strike that may impact U.S. nuclear power plants.

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