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article imageFlorida's nuclear plants to shut down ahead of Irma

By Karen Graham     Sep 8, 2017 in Environment
Tampa - Florida Power & Light (FLP) announced on Thursday it will shut its two nuclear power plants before Irma comes ashore as a very powerful hurricane.
Hurricane Irma, a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane, is tracking north of the Dominican Republic this morning and will then head for the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas, before setting its sights on Florida and parts of the Southeast beginning as early as tomorrow.
FLP, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc, generates enough electricity to power 1.9 million homes from its Turkey Point and St. Lucie plants, which are both along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. The plants are about 20 feet (6 meters) above sea level.
“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 told a news conference.
The company will adjust their plans as conditions warrant, “depending upon the path of the storm,” Gould said. He did not say exactly when the plants would be shut down or how long they would be down. But according to Reuters, the Energy Department said late on Thursday the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects Turkey Point to close on Friday evening and St. Lucie to shut about 12 hours later.
Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station is a twin reactor nuclear power station located on a 3 300-a...
Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station is a twin reactor nuclear power station located on a 3,300-acre (1,300 ha) site two miles east of Homestead, Florida, next to Biscayne National Park.
Environmental Protection Agency/Fred Ward
Hurricane Irma is forecast to hit the southernmost tip of Florida Sunday morning, moving on up through the center of the state North. FLP says it has invested close to $3 billion since 2005 in protecting its electrical grid since the last major storm damaged power facilities in the state. But if Irma stays on its projected path, many customers will be left without power.
Gould said the company may have to rebuild parts of its power system, and this could take weeks or even longer, “if Irma’s worst fears are realized." The company may turn off some substations ahead of any flooding. This will help in protecting some of the grid infrastructures, making it easier to restore power once the flood waters recede.
Chemical fallout could be worse than Harvey's
In related news, concerns have been raised over the scores of plants, storage depots, refineries, wastewater treatment facilities and EPA Superfund sites in Florida that could release hazardous materials, either because of flooding or damage from Irma's winds.
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Port Tampa
Port Tampa was operating on Thursday, but officials say they will close the port to shipping if the Coast Guard forecasts gale-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour hitting within the 24 hours to come. The port handles ammonia, unleaded gasoline, sulfuric acid, and ethanol.
Jennifer Rubiello, state director for Environment Florida, said in an email to Bloomberg that industrial sites are poorly regulated and "even well-regulated sites can and do fail." She added that it was difficult to pinpoint the riskiest sites because operators don't have to disclose emergency plans.
Perhaps of even bigger concern is the Mosaic Company's phosphate strip mining operation in Central Florida. It contains the country's largest deposit of phosphates. The company digs ore from 200,000 acres and breaks it down using sulfuric acid, creating a byproduct called phosphogypsum that contains small amounts of radioactive uranium and radium.
Phosphogypsum stack located near Fort Meade  Florida. These contain the waste byproducts of the phos...
Phosphogypsum stack located near Fort Meade, Florida. These contain the waste byproducts of the phosphate fertilizer industry.
Harvey Henkelmann
The core of the problem is the phosphogypsum — There isn't much of a market for the stuff, so there are about one billion tons situated in 20 piles around the site, according to Florida Polytechnic University researchers. On September 16, 2016, Mosaic made the news headlines when a massive 45-foot diameter sinkhole opened up underneath a"gypsum stack." The 215,000-gallon wastewater pond drained into the sinkhole and on down into the Floridian Aquifer.
Jaclyn Lopez, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Florida office, said it will be hard to imagine the health and environmental impacts from 15 to 20 inches of rainfall on drinking water and the environment. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in an interview that staff is being dispatched to monitor Irma’s impacts. "If someone needs 10 people, send them 20," he said. "If they need 20, send them 40."
More about Florida, Nuclear power plants, Hurricane Irma, Florida Light & Power
 
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