Saturday, September 9, 2017

Tukey Point Nuclear Power Plant Still Running Despite Oncoming Hurricane Irma


Hurricane Jose is now gathering force and has been classified as a level 4 hurricane while Irma barrels down on Florida and the US southeast.

Florida's nuclear power plants are in the storm's path and no amount of preparation may be sufficient to combat the flooding and sustained electrical outages likely to occur:
Steven Mufson (2017, September 8). Florida nuclear plants could take a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. Plant owners say they are ready. The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/09/08/florida-nuclear-plants-could-take-a-direct-hit-from-hurricane-irma-plant-owners-say-they-are-ready/?utm_term=.d0d24277be3f
NextEra Energy’s Turkey Point, which stands amid mangroves 25 miles south of Miami, and St. Lucie, located on a barrier island about 125 miles north of Miami, together provide about 13 percent of Florida’s electricity. Natural gas provides the overwhelming majority of the state’s electricity.

Each site has a pair of reactors. Turkey Point’s date back to 1972 and 1973; St Lucie’s were commissioned in 1976. Turkey Point survived Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that in 1992 passed directly over the nuclear plant….

But Lochbaum said that the NRC does not require the testing of portable pumps and generators. On Jan. 9, seven inches of rain fell in five hours at the St. Lucie nuclear plant, flooding an auxiliary building with nearly 50,000 gallons of water that flowed through missing or degraded seals.

“Fukushima revealed a vulnerability. NRC ordered that vulnerability remedied. St. Lucie claimed to have remedied it. NRC claimed to have double-checked the remedy. And then rainfall reveals them both to be wrong,” Lochbaum said.
It is interesting to compare HURRICANE IRMA impacts with the 1992 HURRICANE ANDREW EVENT.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew passed over Turkey Point Nuclear PP producing significant damage and disrupting power with costs estimated at $90 million (see here). 

According to the NRC, Andrew produced "extensive onsite and offsite damage" including loss of power for more than 5 days and complete loss of communication systems:

US NRC (1993, July 20). Information Notice No. 93-53: Effect of Hurricane Andrew on Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station and Lessons Learned. OFFICE OF NUCLEAR REACTOR REGULATION WASHINGTON D.C. 20555https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/gen-comm/info-notices/1993/in93053.html

The eye of the storm, with sustained winds of up to 233 kilometers per hour (km/h) [145 miles per hour (mph)] and gusts of 282 km/h (175 mph), passed over the Turkey Point site and caused extensive onsite and offsite damage. The onsite damage included loss of all offsite power for more than 5 days, complete loss of communication systems, closing of the access road, and damage to the fire protection and security systems and warehouse facilities. However, despite the intensity of the hurricane and the age of the plant, onsite damage was limited to fire protection, security, and several non-safety-related systems and structures. There was no damage to the safety-related systems except for minor water intrusion and some damage to insulation and paint, and there was no radioactive release to the environment. The units remained in a stable condition and functioned as designed.
There are several noteworthy issues to consider.

First, Andrew today is 20 years older than it was in 1992. Nuclear power plants are exposed to high radiation and high temperatures. They are more vulnerable as they age (see http://www.nbcnews.com/id/43455859/ns/us_news-environment/t/safety-rules-loosened-aging-nuclear-reactors/#.WbQ8fsbdnwk ).

What could go wrong? One of the worst things that can happen to a nuclear power plant - indeed THE worst thing discussed publicly - is a loss of cooling event, as summarized in this statement taken from Scientific American:
Peter Behr (2010, March 9). Can Aging Nuclear Reactors Be Safe? Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nuclear-reactor-safety/
 A sudden blockage of cooling water is one of the potential nightmares that nuclear power plant operators and regulators fear most....
Loss of cooling is scary because it can result in radioactive fires. I recommend reading this article because it illustrates the problems of "complacency" regarding aging reactors.
 
Loss of cooling can be caused by power outages and/or from structural damage to buildings/systems. We saw in the Fukushima disaster and in the more recent Arkema chemical plant disaster that back-up generators are often located in places susceptible to flooding. Nuclear power plants are quite vulnerable to loss of cooling hazards.

If you go back up to the passage from the NRC about Hurricane Andrew's impact on Turkey Point you will see that "onsite damage" included "fire protection" and "security":
"...onsite damage was limited to fire protection, security, and several non-safety-related system...."

Fire protection and security are precisely what you don't want to lose with a nuclear power plant.

Reactor fuel must be continuously cooled after a scram shutdown. Additionally the water in spent fuel pools must also be constantly circulated and cooled to avoid spent fuel pool fires, which actually present greater risks of radioactive contamination than the fuel in a reactor.

Turkey point is vulnerable to flooding, as pointed out in the Wikipedia entry for the plant, which has a rather dubious safety history:
Turkey Point (last updated 2017, September 9). Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_Point_Nuclear_Generating_Station (accessed September 9, 2017).

Built in the early 1970s, the aging plant depends on similar vulnerable backup systems to prevent a meltdown as those of Japan’s Fukushima plant, which is still leaking radiation. Although Turkey Point’s main reactors are 20 feet above sea level, the plant’s diesel-powered backup generators, which keep cooling water circulating through the reactors when power is knocked out, are less elevated and less well insulated, according to Phil Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami.[28] 
A story posted 55 minutes ago by The Miami Herald states that Florida Power still hasn't started shutting down Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant's early 1970s-era pressured water reactors:
Nancy Dahlberg (2017, September 9). FPL hasn’t started shutdown of Turkey Point nuclear plant. The Miami Herald, Available http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article172266962.html#storylink=cpy
What is the company waiting for? An urgent scram simply increases risks....







2 comments:

  1. Just read this encouraging bit of news:

    Andy Greenberg (6 September 2017). Hackers gain direct access to US Power Grid Controls. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/hackers-gain-switch-flipping-access-to-us-power-systems/
    In an era of hacker attacks on critical infrastructure, even a run-of-the-mill malware infection on an electric utility’s network is enough to raise alarm bells. But the latest collection of power grid penetrations went far deeper: Security firm Symantec is warning that a series of recent hacker attacks not only compromised energy companies in the US and Europe but also resulted in the intruders gaining hands-on access to power grid operations—enough control that they could have induced blackouts on American soil at will.

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  2. Comment from Enenews: PhilipUpNorth
    September 11, 2017 at 10:33 http://enenews.com/worst-hurricane-ever-headed-straight-for-multiple-us-nuclear-plants-winds-up-to-225-mph-storm-to-cause-apocalyptic-damage-officials-making-fukushima-comparisons-videos/comment-page-4#comment-866373

    One of the Turkeys experienced a problem, initiating a scram:

    "MANUAL REACTOR TRIP ON LOWERING STEAM GENERATOR WATER LEVEL

    "On 09/10/17 at 1855 [EDT], [Turkey Point] Unit 4 reactor was manually tripped from 88% RTP [Rated Thermal Power] due to a failure of 4C Steam Generator main feed regulating valve causing lowering S/G [Steam Generator] level. All other systems operated normally. Auxiliary Feed Water initiated as designed to provide S/G water level control. EOP's [Emergency Operating Procedures] have been exited and General Operating procedures (GOP'S) were entered. Unit 4 is stable in Mode 3 at NOT/NOP [Normal Operating Temperature/Normal Operating Pressure]."

    "The licensee is investigating the failure of the feed regulating valve. Offsite power is available. Decay heat is being removed via main feedwater with steam discharged to atmosphere using the ADVs [Atmospheric Dump Valves]. There is no known primary-secondary steam generator tube leakage.

    The licensee informed the NRC Resident Inspector."

    https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/en.html

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