Florida Nuclear Plants Will Shut Ahead of Irma

Florida Power & Light (FPL), the largest utility in Florida, said September 7 it would shut down its Turkey Point and St. Lucie nuclear power plants in the hopes of limiting potential damage from Hurricane Irma. The facilities are the only operating nuclear plants in the state.

FPL did not give specific timing for the shutdown, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said it expects Turkey Point, located south of Miami, will be taken offline the evening of September 8, with the St. Lucie facility on Hutchinson Island, north of West Palm Beach, likely being shut down early on September 9. The effects of Irma, which could be the most-destructive hurricane to ever strike Florida, are expected to be felt in south Florida on Saturday, with conditions worsening throughout the weekend.

The two plants are each about 20 feet above sea level. The plants are protected by concrete and steel barriers, and were further reinforced for protection after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, when floodwaters from a tsunami after an earthquake caused multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

“We will safely shut down these nuclear plants well in advance of hurricane-force winds, and we’ve finalized plans for that shutdown,” FPL spokesman Rob Gould said in a news conference September 7. Gould said FPL will adjust plans if needed “depending on the path of the storm.” Gould did not say how long the utility expects to keep the plants closed.

FPL has about 10 million residential and commercial customers in Florida and serves about half the state. Gould said the company may turn off power to some substations to mitigate problems ahead of any flooding, which would allow the utility to restore power more quickly after floodwaters recede. He noted the utility is prepared to rebuild parts of its power system based on expected damage from the storm. He said that could take weeks or longer “if Irma’s worst fears are realized.”

Crews from power companies outside of Florida already are staging in the state to help restore power and  repair electricity systems after the storm passes. FPL has said it can deploy about 15,000 crew members to the hardest-hit areas after the storm.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)