As Hurricane Florence slowly nears the U.S. coast, with the most recent path projecting that it will make landfall near North or South Carolina, many are wondering about nuclear power plants in the region. Are there any nuclear plants potentially in the path of the storm? Yes, there are, but officials are already making plans to accommodate and secure the plants. Read on to see which plants are near and where they are located.
Nuclear Reactors in the Carolinas & Virginia Regions
Sixteen nuclear reactors are located in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, where the storm could make landfall, U.S. News & World Report reported. However, other sources like CBS News are noting that only about six nuclear power plants appear to be in the storm’s potential path. (It’s unclear if some sources are counting each reactor separately versus referring to actual stations or plants.) The map above, from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, shows all the operating commercial nuclear power reactors in the U.S.
The two main plants that may be in the storm’s path are:
Duke Energy Corp’s Brunswick Nuclear Plant in North Carolina — This is one of the plants most likely to be in the storm’s path, U.S. News & World Report reported. It’s located in Southport, North Carolina on the coast, and is sometimes referred to as Brunswick 1 and Brunswick 2.
The Brunswick plant is just south of Wilmington, just a few miles north of where Florence may be making landfall, according to the BBC. (Of course, any current landfall predictions are subject to change, since hurricanes can be quite unpredictable.)
A 2004 study by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (which you can read more about in the next section) gives quite a few assurances about Brunswick.
“Brunswick 1 and 2 are boiling-water reactors (BWRs) with Mark 1 containments, located 2 miles north of Southport, North Carolina, on the Atlantic seacoast. From the Brunswick updated final safety analysis report (UFSAR), the once every 100 years extreme wind for the site is 135 mph. In addition, Class I buildings are designed to withstand 300-mph tornado winds… and all of the safety-related structures are waterproofed to an elevation of 22 feet MSL…”
In 2016 the plant turned 40, Star News Online noted, but that doesn’t mean it is anything to be worried about. The plant was given a license for a 60-year extension and it’s built to withstand any natural disasters.
Duke Energy Corp’s Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in New Hill, North Carolina — This is one of the plants most likely to be in the storm’s path, U.S. News & World Report reported. (A map on Duke’s website lists this plant as being in Wake County and not being on the coast.) This is a nuclear power plant with a single Westinghouse pressurized-water nuclear reactor. It’s located 20 miles southwest of Raleigh.
In 2013, Duke Energy noted about the plant: “The reactor and steam generators are housed inside a containment structure designed to withstand the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and airborne objects. Its walls are 4 1/2 feet thick and made up of nine layers of steel-reinforced concrete. In addition to multiple safety and plant shutdown systems, in-depth defense and emergency response plans are coordinated and practiced regularly with local, state and federal officials.”
It’s unclear exactly which other nuclear plants are included in the list of a “half-dozen” that are in the storm’s path, but here is a list of some of the other plants in the Virginia, North and South Carolina regions, as shared by Duke’s website and the U.S. NRC.
- Duke’s Catawba Nuclear Station in York County, South Carolina – This plant is not on the coast. It was built in 1985 and is on Lake Wylie in York County. “Catawba Nuclear Station was designed and built with redundant safety systems and multiple barriers to protect the public, plant workers and the environment.” (This may also be referred to as Catawba 1 and Catawba 2). This is 18 miles south of Charlotte, according to NRC.
- Duke’s McGuire Nuclear Station in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina – This plant is not on the coast. It’s located on Lake Norman, 17 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina.
- Duke’s Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, South Carolina – This plant is not on the coast. It’s located on Lake Keowee, eight miles north of Seneca and 30 miles west of Greenville, South Carolina.
- Duke’s Robinson Nuclear Plant in Darlington County, South Carolina – This plant is not on the coast. It’s located near Hartsville, South Carolina, 26 miles northwest of Florence, South Carolina.
- V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, South Carolina- This station is in Fairfield County, about 20 miles northwest of Columbia. This plant is not located on the coast. It’s 26 miles northwest of Columbia, South Carolina.
- North Anna 1 & 2: This is 40 miles northwest of Richmond, Virginia, operated by Dominion Generation.
- Surry: This plant is 17 miles northwest of Newport News, Virginia.
Nuclear Plants Are Ready for the Storm & Are Built to Withstand the Water & Winds
Nuclear operators are ready for the storm, U.S. News & World Report shared. Operators make sure that backup diesel generators have enough fuel, they secure loose equipment, and do walk throughs to make sure that the plants are ready. Most plants are already performing pre-storm preparations, and nuclear reactors are shut down about 12 hours before a hurricane arrives.
In addition, Class I buildings (such as many of those at the Brunswick plant) are built to withstand 300-mph tornado winds, notes a 2005 report by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission titled “Impact of the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season on U.S. Nuclear Power Plants.” This study looked at the Brunswick Steam Electric Plant, St. Lucie Plant, and Crystal River Nuclear Generating Plant — three plants impacted by 2004 hurricanes. The study notes: “In general, this study revealed that hurricane preparations by the NRC and its licensees were effective. Although the hurricanes disrupted operation of the impacted NPPs, they did not have a significant impact on nuclear safety.” The study refers to nuclear power plants in general as NPPs.
The study notes:
Although NPPs are robust facilities and are designed to withstand the impact of severe weather, such as hurricanes, a direct hit by a ‘major’ hurricane to a coastal NPP can cause significant damage to nonessential structures, systems, and components, as evidenced by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Hurricane Andrew was initially considered a Category 4 hurricane at its landfall near the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station in Florida, but it has been reclassified by the National Hurricane Center as a Category 5 hurricane.”
The study says that Hurricane Andrew, which hit Florida, provides the best example of how NPPs can withstand direct impacts by a major hurricane. And it notes:
The nuclear portion of the plant, contained within Class I structures, suffered no damage except for minor water intrusion and some damage to insulation and paint.”
Offsite power and communication were lost and non-nuclear Class III structures suffered damage, along with some outlying facilities which were destroyed.
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan, which was a Category 3 when it made landfall at Alabama, did not significantly impact NPPs in the area.
World Nuclear News also discussed Hurricane Matthew’s effect in 2016 on nuclear plants in the southeastern U.S. and how the nuclear plants were unscathed. Joe Pollock, vice president of nuclear operations for the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute, said at the time: “All the nuclear power plants affected by Hurricane Matthew weathered the storm well and were well-prepared for the high winds and heavy rains. These facilities have proven their ability to withstand hurricanes and provide electricity to homes and businesses as soon as off-site power is restored and the electricity grid can accommodate the power.”