Florida’s Nuclear Plants and Hurricane Irma

, senior scientist

Will Florida’s two nuclear plants, Turkey Point and St. Lucie, be able to withstand Hurricane Irma?

Florida governor Rick Scott, the utility Florida Power & Light (FP&L), and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have all provided assurances that they will. But we are about to witness a giant experiment in the effectiveness of the NRC’s strategy for protecting nuclear plants from natural disasters. Read more >

Bookmark and Share

Friendly Answers Following Blowing of the Winds

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #59

Safety by Intent

With ample warning, Hurricane Matthew made landfall in South Carolina coast on October 8, 2016, bringing along its heavy rainfall and high winds.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted Disaster Initiated Reviews for nuclear plants in South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida to determine whether Hurricane Matthew adversely affected emergency planning measures within a 10-mile radius of each site. Read more >

Bookmark and Share

Nuclear Power(less) Plants

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent #3

Disaster by Design

The primary purpose of commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S. is to generate electricity. When not fulfilling that role, nuclear power plants that are shut down require electricity to run the equipment needed to prevent the irradiated fuel in the reactor core and spent fuel pool from damage by overheating. The March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan graphically illustrated what can happen when nuclear plants do not get the electricity they require. Read more >

Bookmark and Share

Assault on St. Lucie Nuclear Plant

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Fission Stories #167

Prior to 9/11, federal regulations required U.S. nuclear power plants to be defended against radiological sabotage carried out by a small group of outside attackers aided by one insider. After 9/11, the NRC revised the regulations to required defending against a slightly larger group of outside attackers aided by one insider. At least once every three years, the NRC monitors a simulated attack on each nuclear plant by mock intruders to judge how adequately the security measures are implemented. Read more >

Bookmark and Share

Fission Stories #27: Jellyfish Put Nuclear Plant in a Jam

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Jellyfish appear harmless. Despite an occasional tale about swimmers being stung by jellyfish, Hollywood movies always feature shark attacks. No National Geographic special has featured cameramen being lowered into the sea in heavy steel cages to film voracious jellyfish. The Discovery Channel hosts a Shark Week each year but lacks a Jellyfish Day or even a Jellyfish Hour.

Nevertheless, a flotilla of jellyfish attacked the Turkey Point nuclear plant in Florida on September 3, 1984. They stormed the plant in such numbers and with such ferocity that they clogged the flow of cooling water to the plant’s main condensers. A metal screen designed to keep debris from being pumped into the plant was bent inward nearly two feet during the assault. Both of the nuclear reactors at Turkey Point had to be shut down. The clogged screens prevented the waste heat produced by the reactors from being dissipated to the environment. The reactors remained shut down for 11 days until Hurricane Diana swept the jellyfish back out to sea.

It was neither the first nor the last time that jellyfish put a nuclear plant in a jam. A year earlier, the operators manually tripped the Unit 1 reactor at the St. Lucie nuclear plant in Florida due to jellyfish blocking the cooling water supply. A month before the September 3 attack, the operators manually tripped the Unit 2 reactor at St. Lucie when the jellyfish returned en masse.

On September 18, 1993, the operators tripped the Unit 1 reactor at St. Lucie, again due to jellyfish intrusion. Two days later as the operators attempted to restore Unit 1 to full power, the jellyfish made another sneak attack. The operators had to trip the reactor again. On September 20, 1993, while making another attempt to restore the reactor to full power, the operators again had to trip the reactor because of the jellyfish.

Jellyfish also caused the operators to reduce the power level of the Unit 1 reactor at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant in Maryland on July 7, 2006.

On October 21, 2008, Moon Jellyfish forced the operators to trip the Unit 2 reactor and reduce the power level of the Unit 1 reactor at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California.

The operators tripped the Unit 2 reactor at the Point Beach nuclear plant in Wisconsin on May 15, 2004. Workers lost sight of a diver performing underwater work at the intake structure where the plant draws water from the lake. As a precautionary measure, or as the first step in the recovery effort, the operators shut down the reactor. After the operators turned off the pumps at the intake structure, a second diver entered the water and was able to find the first diver and free his snagged air/communication line. No jellyfish were involved, but it shows that human swimmers can match what jellyfish can accomplish.

Our Takeaway

Nuclear plants draw vast amounts of water from nearby lakes, rivers, and oceans. Large quantities of fish larvae and other aquatic wildlife in that water perish along the way. The jellyfish got some revenge.

The toll paid by aquatic environments around nuclear plants is not insignificant and must be factored into the environmental assessments of nuclear plant operation. The aquatic environment can also take its toll on power plants, and that must also be factored in.

Postscript – Don’t dive near the intake structures for nuclear power plants. You might get in the way of the next jellyfish swarm.

“Fission Stories” is a weekly feature by Dave Lochbaum. For more information on nuclear power safety, see the nuclear safety section of UCS’s website and our interactive map, the Nuclear Power Information Tracker.

Bookmark and Share