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Thursday
Sep202018

Brunswick nuclear plant remains shut down following Hurricane Florence 

The two-unit coastal Brunswick nuclear power station in South Port, NC was powered down to zero power shortly in advance of  the  September 14th arrival Hurricane Florence with Category 1 winds (sustained < 75 mph), storm surge and torrential rainfall. Operators maintained the Brunswick units in “hot standby” (reactor cooling water at 212O F and capable of steam powering onsite turbines for emergency electricity) to provide an added measure of power supply for reactor safety and cooling systems in the event of loss of offsite power and backup emergency diesel generators.  However, throughout the storm, Duke Energy reported that the nuclear power station was in “stable” condition and never lost offsite electricity power from the grid providing primary power to safety systems and cooling.  A low-level emergency was declared September 15th when the reactor site was completely surrounded by rising flood waters making it inaccessible by road. Two shifts of workers were already housed onsite and supplied in advance for the storm’s duration.   Offsite access by road to the Brunswick units was restored on September 18th and the “Unusual event” emergency was terminated.

The continued flooding has damaged many of the bridges and roads within the ten-mile radius that encompasses the radiological evacuation planning zone for the Brunswick nuclear power station. As the flooding recedes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will assess the damage to the infrastructure and will provide its recommendation to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) before Brunswick is allowed to restart.

In advance of Florence’s arrival, a press release from the Union of Concerned Scientists identified that, “There is not a clear picture of either plant’s [flooding] vulnerabilities because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has withheld key flood protection preparedness reports it required in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, where flooding caused three reactor core meltdowns. However, both Brunswick and Surry have had potentially serious problems that their owners may or may not have fixed.” The Brunswick units are both GE Mark I boiling water reactors like Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi units that exploded and melted down following the loss of all power from primary, backup emergency diesel generators and battery power to all reactor safety and cooling systems as a result of an extreme earthquake and tsunami.

As already precedent setting flood levels continue to rise, dams on the Cape Fear River only become more a concern.