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article imageSeveral nuclear power plants are in Florence's potential path

By Karen Graham     Sep 12, 2018 in Environment
Potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane Florence is barreling its way across the Atlantic and has set its eye on the Carolina coast and Mid-Atlantic region. Two at-risk nuclear power plants are directly in its path.
As the Associated Press reported on Monday, "The storm's potential path also includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous eastern hog farms that store animal waste in massive open-air lagoons."
The nuclear power plants thought to be in the possible path of Florence include North Carolina's Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant in Southport, Duke Energy Sutton Steam Plant in Wilmington, and South Carolina's V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville.
There are 20 nuclear power plants spread through the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and western Tennessee, according to a map on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) website. But the concern for the facilities located directly in the hurricane's path has raised real concerns.
The Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant  two miles north of Soutport  NC.
The Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant, two miles north of Soutport, NC.
: Jonathan Haas (talk)
At-risk nuclear plants
Fox News is reporting the storm is predicted to pass over the Brunswick Nuclear Plant – about 30 miles south of Wilmington – as well as the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in New Hill, a town farther inland. The Brunswick plant's two reactors are of the same design as those in Fukushima, Japan that exploded and leaked radiation following the 2011 magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami.
North Carolina has 12 nuclear power plants, generally located near water because water is needed as a cooling source. The NRC on Wednesday said it's sending additional inspectors to plants in North and South Carolina and is activating its regional incident response center in Atlanta to provide 24/7 support during the storm.
The National Hurricane Center is predicting that as much as 40 inches of rainfall can be expected in isolated areas of the Carolinas, and 6-12 inches in the Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic regions. “This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding,” said the NHC in its 11:00 a.m. update on Wednesday.
The Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant in New Hill  North Carolina  is a nuclear power plant with a ...
The Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant in New Hill, North Carolina, is a nuclear power plant with a single Westinghouse designed pressurized-water nuclear reactor operated by Duke Energy.
NRC via Wikimedia
Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said earlier this week that operators of the two plants would begin shutting down the plants at least two hours before Florence’s hurricane-force winds arrive. He also said operators are sweeping the sites for anything that might be swept away with the winds, and are preparing backup generators to make sure the plants have enough fuel to keep producing power.
As for Duke Energy - "They were safe then. They are even safer now," said Kathryn Green, a Duke spokeswoman, referring to the post-Fukushima improvements. "We have backups for backups for backups."
Ed Vallee, a North Carolina-based meteorologist, said, "Dangerous wind gusts and flooding will be the largest threats to these operations with inland power plants being susceptible to inland flooding."
Hurricanes and nuclear power plants
In 2014, Shane Shifflett and Kate Sheppard at the Huffington Post reported on the risk storms like Florence pose to nuclear plants: Most nuclear power facilities were built well before scientists understood just how high sea levels might rise in the future. And for power plants, the most serious threat is likely to come from surges during storms. Higher sea levels mean that flooding will travel farther inland, creating potential hazards in areas that may have previously been considered safe.
"Even when a plant is not operating, the spent fuel stored on-site, typically uranium, will continue to emit heat and must be cooled using equipment that relies on the plant's own power," they wrote.
"Flooding can cause a loss of power, and in serious conditions, it can damage backup generators. Without a cooling system, reactors can overheat and damage the facility to the point of releasing radioactive material."
As of 11 a.m. Hurricane Florence was about 485 miles southeast of Wilmington, N.C., with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. All we can do right now is hope the nuclear facilities will withstand the winds, storm surges, and flooding rains.
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