With Hurricane Irma’s landfall in Florida now seemingly unavoidable, one of the state’s electric utilities, Florida Power & Light (FPL), has announced that it is shutting down its two nuclear power plants as a precaution.
The two nuclear facilities in question — the Turkey Point plant and the St Lucie plant — together provide enough electricity to power around 1.9 million regional homes (electricity use in Florida is quite high, owing to air conditioning). Both of the facilities are located along Florida’s Atlantic Coast — each only around 20 feet (~6 meters) above sea level.
In other words, a high enough storm surge could potentially flood the facilities.
“We will safely shut down these nuclear plants well in advance of hurricane-force winds, and we’ve finalized plans for that shutdown,” commented FPL spokesman Rob Gould during a news conference announcing the plans.
These plans may be altered based on the exact path that the hurricane ends up taking. Notably, Gould didn’t reveal when exactly the plants will be taken offline, or how long they will remain so.
Reuters provides more: “The Energy Department said late on Thursday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects Turkey Point to close on Friday evening and St Lucie to shut about 12 hours later, depending on the storm’s path. … Gould said FPL might have to turn off some substations ahead of any major flooding, a technique that could help the company restore power faster once any floodwaters recede, rather than keeping them on and allowing the storm to damage them.
“FPL’s nuclear plants are protected by thick concrete and reinforced steel and like many plants around the world were bolstered further after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Gould said.”
Gould also revealed that if Hurricane Irma ends up being as damaging as it seems it may end up being, then — despite $3 billion invested by FPL since 2005 to make the regional grid more robust — a great many of the utility’s customers will lose power. If this happens, then it may take “weeks or longer” to restore power to everyone.
As it stands, Hurricane Irma is a Category 4 storm, and is seemingly slated to hit Florida on Sunday.
Why write about this on CleanTechnica? Because when a hurricane strikes a solar or wind energy installation, there aren’t worries about the potential release of dangerously high levels of radiation — or extremely expensive nuclear disaster cleanup efforts, for that matter.