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WHAT IF HURRICANE MATTHEW HITS FLORIDA’S NUCLEAR REACTORS?

[10/6/16]  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.”

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.)

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