Sunday, October 9, 2016

Nuclear Plants Unreliable In A Hurricane - St. Lucie Shut Down

Subtitle:  St. Lucie Nuclear Plant Unreliable in a Hurricane

The recent flap in Australia that saw the state of South Australia suffer a grid blackout due to high winds prompted a storm of controversy over whether or not wind power, a renewable energy source, was to blame.   Of course, many of the anti-renewable crowd advocated for more nuclear power plants, saying they are reliable where wind power is not.    The irony is that here, half a world away in Florida, hurricane Matthew forced the St. Lucie nuclear power plant to shut down.   The story was given as: 

"St. Lucie Power Plant shut down because of Hurricane Matthew" --  see link to story 10/7/2016. 

From the article: "Federal rules require nuclear plants to be shut down at least one hour before hurricane winds hit the site, spokesman Peter Robbins said. FPL closed the Hutchinson Island plant at 11:15 a.m. and will reopen it after the category 4 storm is over. Its reopening might be delayed if access roads are blocked because rules require an evacuation route for a power plant to remain open, he said."   (note: FPL is Florida Power and Light; the St. Lucie nuclear plant is located on Hutchinson Island just south of Vero Beach, Florida)

For background, Hurricane Matthew was a category 4 that traveled northward as it remained offshore but brushed the entire eastern seaboard of Florida from October 5 through October 8, 2016.  Hurricane winds are sustained wind of 75 miles per hour or greater.   Wind speeds reported by the National Weather Service at Vero Beach, just 10 miles north of the St. Lucie nuclear plant, showed maximum sustained winds of 49 miles per hour at 3:53 a.m. on October 7, 2016.  Winds gradually increased to that point, then decreased steadily after.  Wind gusts were higher, as expected, with the highest at 74 miles per hour. 

It is also noteworthy that Florida reported more than 1 million customers lost power due to hurricane Matthew's winds.   Those were most likely the low-voltage lines, and not the high-voltage backbone of the grid.   This is crucial because an offline nuclear power plant consumes a great deal of electricity to run cooling systems and other critical systems to prevent a meltdown.   St. Lucie also has, by law, backup generation capability to supply power for a few hours when the grid cannot.  

The controversy over wind power continues.    It is clear, though, that nuclear power plants are not quite as reliable as the nuclear cheerleaders claim.    In this case, no one could know if Hurricane Matthew would veer westward and bring 74-mph and greater winds across St. Lucie nuclear plant.   As it turned out, no hurricane winds hit the nuclear plant.   Still, shutting it down as a precaution was the correct thing to do.   Nuclear plants pose a sufficient danger that it is much better to shut one down in a calm and orderly manner than to have a crash shutdown in the midst of a hurricane.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved.

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