Duke starts to shut North Carolina Brunswick nuclear plant ahead of Florence

Source Duke Energy

Brunswick Nuclear Plant, four miles inland in Southport, N.C., is now in the path of Hurricane Florence.

It's predicted to directly 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.

Since Fukushima, all USA reactors have been upgraded with additional safety equipment, including portable pumps and generators to keep cooling water circulating through the reactor in case the plant loses offsite power. This provides the capability to deal with events that might go beyond previously experienced events or the recorded history for the region. One megawatt can power about 1,000 US homes.

Hurricane Florence is also expected to cause widespread environmental damage, including triggering catastrophic waste spills from sewage treatment plants, hog waste lagoons and chicken farms that line the Carolinas coast. "Other plants near the storm's projected path are also taking precautions".

According to a 2004 NRC report, Brunswick was rated to be waterproof against a storm surge of up to 6.7 metres (22 feet). USA regulations require nuclear power plants to shut down if a storm is forecast to strike the plant with sustained winds of greater than 73 miles per hour, because of the potential loss of off-site power. The company last shut Brunswick due to hurricane force winds in the 1990s, she said.

Additional NRC inspectors are being sent to plants in the affected areas, where NRC resident inspectors are reviewing operator preparations.

Nuclear plant operators prepare in the days before a storm by ensuring that all loose debris and equipment is removed or secured, and conducting walk-down inspections of important systems and equipment. Emergency diesel generators at both plants operated as designed, and off-site power was restored within 24 hours. The Robinson plant responded to a temporary loss of off-site power by shutting down safely.

The two reactors at the site, which entered service in 1975 and 1977, are of similar design to some of the reactors damaged at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after an natural disaster and tsunami in 2011.

The spread of toxic contaminants has been a concern for previous storms.

The cyclone is one of the most powerful hurricanes to have formed in the Atlantic this year.

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