US NRC, nuclear plant operators prepare for Hurricane Florence

Brunswick Nuclear station

The Brunswick nuclear station in North Carolina which is in the expected path of Hurricane Florence. Dima Buzhenko Google Maps

Duke Energy is powering down its Brunswick nuclear plant in North Carolina ahead of Hurricane Florence making landfall on the state's coast, the utility said Thursday.

Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said earlier this week that operators of the two plants would begin shutting down the plants at least two hours before Florence's hurricane-force winds arrive.

Brunswick is located four miles from the coast and sits 20 ft. above sea level; the storm surge in the area around the plant is expected to reach 9-13 ft.

Tropical Storm Florence dumped "epic" amounts of rain on North and SC as it trudged inland on Saturday, triggering risky flooding, toppling trees, cutting power to almost a million homes and businesses while causing at least five deaths.

The Brunswick plant is near Cape Fear and just south of Wilmington, North Carolina.

The locations of nuclear power plants in North and SC. But Duke Energy Corp and the NRC have gone back and forth about whether the facility meets the new requirements, as the plant was originally created to protect itself against only 3.6 feet of storm surge.

Robinson nuclear station will likely see similar impacts, with rain and wind speeds at Vogtle electric generating plant expected to be slightly less severe, based on the current track of the storm.

Hurricane Florence nuclear plants
The two nuclear plants and the predicted path of Hurricane Florence. Google Maps

With a major storm bearing down on these power plants, some thoughts are turning back to 2011, when Japan's Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant was impacted in the wake of the devastating March 11 quake and tsunami. They also have prepared their backup diesel generators to make sure the plants have enough fuel to keep producing power.

The USA's nuclear power plants have weathered hurricanes before.

Engineers and staff will be remaining on site at the plant to monitor the situation. Restoring power to all customers could take weeks, it said.

This, however, is a far different scenario.

Since Fukushima, all US 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.

According to CNN, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now monitoring nine different sites for their potential to release toxic chemicals into the environment, should they become compromised by flooding.

The spread of toxic contaminants has been a concern for previous storms. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew's landfall brought down power lines and flooded transformers, leaving more than two million customers without power across several states.

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The store manager subsequently contacted them and issued a recall, as well as contacting police and health officials. Police believe they have contained the threat, which was first reported over the weekend.

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