The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and nuclear utilities said Wednesday they are taking steps to ensure that power plants in the Carolinas and Virginia are ready for possible impact by Hurricane Florence later this week.
Preparations include inspections of cooling pools and dry storage casks for spent reactor fuel, to identify any potential dangers if the storm hits – particularly flying debris that could damage the installations if not secured or removed, said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah.
Florence was a Category 3 hurricane as of Wednesday afternoon and was expected to reach land by Friday.
The projected path of the hurricane covers Duke Energy’s two-reactor Brunswick facility near the town of Southport, N.C., south of Wilmington. The plant could be hit with hurricane-level winds, surges of water from the nearby Cape Fear River, and large amounts of rain, according to an NRC press release. The agency also said safety measures are being enacted at the Surry nuclear power plant in southeastern Virginia, the Harris facility in North Carolina, and the Robinson site in South Carolina, among others.
In total, the three states host 16 nuclear power reactors, Reuters reported.
“Nuclear power plants are probably the most robust structures in the United States. They’re well prepared to withstand natural events, including hurricanes,” Duke Energy spokeswoman Karen Williams said.
Williams said Duke’s nuclear plants in the region have completed their pre-storm readiness work, including deploying emergency equipment and ensuring diesel generators have sufficient fuel to sustain operations during any loss of off-site power. Nuclear plants are also required to shut down at least two hours prior to the arrival of hurricane-force winds above 73 mph.
While Williams said she could not discuss specifics of weather emergency planning for spent fuel, she noted that Duke’s dry casks are made of steel-reinforced concrete designed to withstand hurricanes. Spent fuel pools at nuclear facilities are often elevated, reducing the threat from flooding, Hannah noted.
Dominion Energy, which operates the Surry and North Anna power plants in Virginia, noted that its dry-storage casks each weigh 115 tons. “Highly unlikely that they will tip over,” spokesman Richard Zuercher said.
The NRC is posting additional inspectors at certain power plants to verify that all necessary emergency measures have been taken.