There has been a lot in the news recently about construction of the new nuclear power plants in Georgia and South Carolina. What may have been lost in this dialog is the important contribution of existing nuclear power plants in providing reliable and stable baseload energy to the nation. This was especially evident during the horrific conditions brought to the south by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
There are currently 99 operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. providing our country with the highest amount of nuclear power in the world. Nuclear power accounts for approximately 20 percent of U.S. electricity and nearly 60 percent of carbon-free electricity. These reactors have operated well over 90 percent of the time, which can’t be said for other power generation sources including coal, natural gas, wind and solar.
The reliability and importance of nuclear energy was recently demonstrated during Hurricane Harvey and in its aftermath. The two nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project, located 90 miles southeast of Houston, operated at 100 percent power during and after the storm to provide lifesaving power to over 2 million Texas residents. The reactors were designed to withstand Category 5 hurricane conditions. With safety plans in place, the emergency staff of 250 operated the reactors within safety guidelines under the watchful eyes of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspectors. Provisions were in place to immediately shut down the plant if needed; however, the robust reactor design allowed the units to stay at full power. Reactor units in Louisiana, near Baton Rouge and New Orleans, also operated at full power during and after the storm. On the contrary, the storm has left refineries shut down, pipelines closed, and resulted in extended interruption to wind and solar power sources.
Just this week, nuclear plants located in Florida weathered through Hurricane Irma. Again, with additional NRC inspectors at the ready, prudent decisions were made by Florida Power and Light’s emergency operations staff on the operations of the four nuclear reactors in Florida. These power plants had previously withstood Hurricane Andrew with Category 5 force with damage only to periphery systems. Erring on the side of caution, one reactor unit was safely shut down at the Turkey Point site just north of Miami while the other unit remained in full operation. Further up the East Coast, the two units at St. Lucie remained in operation during the storm. After the storm, power was reduced in Unit 1, due to salt buildup on insulators in the switchyard. The reactors at Turkey Point and St. Lucie are expected to be brought back up to full power soon.
Also, as the storm shifted westward, the NRC carefully monitored conditions associated with operation of the Hatch Nuclear Power Plant in Georgia and the Farley Nuclear Plant in Alabama. It was determined that conditions would not impact safe operations of these reactors and the reactors were maintained at full power.
Nuclear energy continues to provide baseload power for the nation and must continue to be in the energy mix. Through close monitoring of conditions and a continuous watch on safety, the nuclear power plants in Texas and Florida withstood the fury of Harvey and Irma! Now clean and reliable energy is readily available when Texas and Florida will need it most.
James C. Marra, PhD
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness