What if Hurricane Matthew Hits Florida’s Nuclear Reactors?

Simon Mahan, SACE’s Renewable Energy Manager, contributed to this blog post.

Hurricane Matthew Hurricane Force Wind Speeds, Florida (National Hurricane Center)

Hurricane Matthew has already caused devastation in Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Tracking this dangerous storm’s path, which Bloomberg reported as a “$15 billion threat,” as it moves towards Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and potentially up the Eastern seaboard is proving difficult. But despite unclear predictions, communities are wisely mobilizing and calling for evacuations (or are already in the process of doing so) and/or declaring states of emergency.

Extreme weather events have widespread ramifications on our electricity systems. A Department of Energy review of responses to Hurricanes Irene and Sandy from nuclear reactors in the Northeast highlighted a number of strategies to protect the reactors. According to the Department of Energy, “Some reactors were shut as a precaution to protect equipment from the storm; others were forced to shut down or reduce power output due to damage to plant facilities or transmission infrastructure serving the plant; and still others were forced to reduce power output due to reduced power demand caused by widespread utility customer outages.” 

Hurricane Matthew Storm Surge, Florida (National Hurricane Center)

Two nuclear power plants exist on Florida’s eastern coast: the St. Lucie and Turkey Point facilities. Based on the current National Hurricane Center projections, it appears that Hurricane Matthew will come closest to the St. Lucie nuclear facility early Friday morning. Storm surge near the St. Lucie nuclear reactors may reach 2-5 feet, and with hurricane force winds of 130 miles per hour. Meanwhile, a significant water quality problem in the Southeast is the ongoing pollution at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) Turkey Point cooling canal system. It’s unclear what effects high winds and storm surge could have on Turkey Point’s open air industrial sewer.

After flooding caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in Japan, the Miami News Times published an article, “Five reasons Turkey Point could be the next nuclear disaster.” The article noted: “Just like in Japan, Turkey Point is susceptible to a meltdown caused by a natural disaster. A hurricane-spurred tidal surge from Turkey Point’s neighboring Biscayne Bay could create catastrophic conditions identical to those in Japan. With power down, the plant would be forced to rely on emergency diesel generators to pump water to cool the reactors….those generators would ‘certainly’ become inundated with water from the tidal surge, causing them to drown and fail.” (Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Tropical Audubon with Friends of the Everglades filed a lawsuit this summer to resolve the pollution problem caused by Turkey Point.)

NOAA, Nat'l Digital Forecast Database, Image by Roger Herried

A report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists evaluated the risks of flood surge on associated power plant infrastructure in southern Florida. UCS’s report states, “Although Turkey Point, a large nuclear facility along the coast, is unlikely to be flooded by a Category 3 storm, everything around it is likely to be, and damage to nearby major substations could still prompt widespread outages in the region.” Similar impacts may be expected of other power plants in the path of Hurricane Matthew.

There are additional nuclear plants further along the eastern coast of the U.S. (find an interactive map from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission here) and depending on how this storm tracks, could be impacted. Bloomberg’s article documented twelve power generators in the storms path, including two nuclear plants, and reported that, “Nuclear operators NextEra Energy and Duke Energy Corp. said they would shut their reactors hours ahead of the onset of hurricane-force winds.” A NOAA projection for the wee hours of this Sunday show peak winds (shown in red on the image to the right) coming very close to Duke Energy’s Brunswick nuclear plant near Southport, North Carolina about 40 miles south of Wilmington.

Hopefully nothing in Florida or elsewhere is affected. We hope everyone stays safe. But as we face more and more such challenges, it’s imperative that we become more energy resilient in the face of climate change. Thankfully there are answers - smart energy choices can keep the lights on!

Hurricane Matthew Projection and Cone of Uncertainty, Florida (National Hurricane Center)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


rssComments RSS

Comment by Sara Barczak on October 6, 2016 3:21 pm

Since day 1, the powers that be have known about the consequences of nuclear energy, but failed to inform the rest of the population. This was back in the 50 or 60s, I believe. A woman was put “in charge” of the Atomic Energy Commission and so, of course, we believed her when she said is was safe and really “too cheap to meter.” If you don’t take into account the fact that it will destroy the world, it was and still is considered a bargain. Ah, but if it doesn’t get us, the oil industry surely will with their fracking that causes earthquakes and their mind-boggling pollution of our lands and oceans. We have been doomed since day one, haven’t we? In this country, ever since the Lusitania was allowed to be sunk by the Germans so we could enter WWI, killing over a thousand people.

Comment by Isabel Cohen, Artist/Activist on October 6, 2016 3:39 pm

You ask a very important question, and a few minutes of searching on Google–certainly less time than it takes to write an article of this length–can answer most of the questions you raised here. I hope you just don’t know the answer to these questions rather than purposely omitting the easy to find answers to exploit the fear that naturally comes from a hurricane in order to sell more wind turbines.

Below are links to a couple of factsheets on St. Lucie and Turkey Point. The highlights are that each plant has a seven day supply of power that can power the cooling and safety systems without offsite power. Each plant has four diesel generators protected by concrete and steel-reinforced buildings. Turkey Point withstood Hurricane Andrew (Category 5) in 1992. Your article also mentioned that Turkey Point would not likely flood. St. Lucie is elevated 20 feet above sea level and also withstood the back-to-back hurricanes of Hurricane Frances and Jeanne in 2004. Both plants are powered down long in advance of the storm.



Here is also a good place to find up to the date information on Hurricane Andrew and the power plants.

Comment by Nathan Macher on October 7, 2016 5:46 pm

Fact sheets from FPL aren’t necessarily the only place to cite & we have done our research. The reality is that reactors in FL, such as one of the St. Lucie reactors (as the other was being refueled) was powered down in advance of the hurricane. Thus unable to provide “reliable” power…

Comment by Sara Barczak on October 8, 2016 12:21 am

The reality is that the doomsday predictions by anti-nuclear zealots have been debunked again. American nuclear plants again stand strong in the face of huricanes and other natural disasters. Consistent performance by engineers and operators who actually have technical knowledge and capablity for 100 U.S. reactors over a 40+ year period of time. Still, there remains a dwindling contingent of people who continue to deny despite facts, science, logic.

To the earlier commenter, “Nathan” … All you can do is keep providing factual information and, over time, education will win out. That is the lesson with all technologies that have faced irrational fear over the course of human history. Research the reaction to pasteurization of milk, the internal combustion engine, electric lightbulbs, microwave ovens, even ships that first dared to sail beyond the sight of flat land.

Education, education, education.

Comment by jerry paul on October 10, 2016 5:33 pm

The reality is and the facts show that nuclear plants, in this case one of the St. Lucie reactor units (as the other was down for refueling), along w/the Brunswick nuclear plant in North Carolina shutdown in advance of the hurricane…so “reliable” power was not provided. Once again nothing was pointed out as being factually incorrect.

Comment by Sara Barczak on October 10, 2016 5:47 pm

Airplanes were grounded in the path of the Category IV Hurricane until it passed. Are you anti-airplane? Are airplanes “unreliable”.

COM – Come On Man. Gotta apply some logic. The anti-nuclear arguments are getting pretty thin after 40 years of being debunked.

Comment by jerry paul on October 11, 2016 7:11 am

The NRC reports today (October11, 2016) – in “event reports” – that the storm placed two nuclear reactors at some risk. The Harris nuclear plant in North Carolina and the Robinson plant in South Carolina both lost “offsite power” during the storm and “unusual events” were declared. The Reactor Protection System was activated at Robinson after the reactor tripped and the reactor was apparently kept stable. Harris was luckily on “hot shutdown” when the event occurred. The “notice” for Harris states: “This event notification also addresses the loss of safety function of the offsite power system which occurred as a result of grid perturbations.” The notice for Robinson states: “A’ Service Water Pump did not start on Blackout sequencer. Sufficient Service Water flow is available from the other three operating pumps. All other systems operated as designed.” Loss of Off-site Power (LOOP) is never a good thing, especially when a reactor is operating (as was Robinson), so it’s clear that the storm and its impact to the power grid posed risks at the nuclear plant, as the NRC reports. Luckily, power was restored at the plants. We’ll see if the NRC posts more information about the incidents and any problems at the 2 sites. See NRC’s “event reports” website: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/en.html

Comment by Tom Clements on October 11, 2016 10:22 am

Good post, Tom.

Indeed, all infrastructure faces some risk when natural disasters occur.

Kudos to responders and planners in the American portion of Hurricane Matthew’s path. Smart decisions to ground airplanes and close schools temorarily, for example. As to nuclear plants, they have the greatest amount of safety margins designed into them (in fact, probably the only example of infrastructure that is essentially impervious to hurricane winds when grounded). Nice to see that, once again, doomsday predictions by alarmists fail and cooler heads prevailed.

Comment by Jpaul on October 12, 2016 8:58 am

Will Solar Panels Be Able to Survive Hurricane Matthew? | Inverse.com
Solar company 1st Light Energy says that solar panels are designed to “stay strong against tree limbs, hail storms, 120+ mile per hour wind, and more” but that they also “are not able to withstand natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes.” So the panels aren’t just going to be destroyed, but there are no guarantees.

Florida Solar Design Group, meanwhile, says hurricanes are too unpredictable to offer any hard answers. Sometimes panels protect the roofs they cover; other times they’re ripped off with everything else…”


Comment by Jpaul on October 12, 2016 9:16 am

This video shows solar panels withstanding 150+ MPH winds, demonstrated by researchers at Florida International University using 12 giant fans that mimic the intensity of a Category 5 hurricane, pummeling rooftops, building materials and solar panels.
A Christian Science Monitor article indicates that most solar installations in New York and New Jersey escaped major damage during Superstorm Sandy. SolarInsure, a renewable energy specialty insurance broker, reported a low claim history from property loss in the wake of Sandy.
As referenced in the original blog, we’d direct readers to review the Union of Concerned Scientist’s “Lights Out” report to see how a more resilient energy infrastructure can be developed.

Comment by Sara Barczak on October 12, 2016 12:59 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.