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Disaster Ready? 5 Nuclear Reactors in Florida, 3 Of Them Within 180 Miles of Palm Coast

| March 15, 2011

FPL's Crystal River nuclear plant is exactly the same distance from Palm Coast as Tokyo is from Japan's exploding nuclear power plant on Japan's northeast east coast. (L.G. Mills)

The Crystal River nuclear plant in Citrus County is exactly the same distance from Palm Coast as Tokyo is from Japan’s exploding nuclear power plant on Japan’s northeast east coast. (L.G. Mills)

As engineers in Japan struggle to bring quake-damaged reactors under control, attention is turning to U.S. nuclear plants and their ability to withstand natural disasters.

Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has spent years pushing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission toward stricter enforcement of its safety rules, has called for a reassessment. Several U.S. reactors lie on or near fault lines, and Markey wants to beef up standards for new and existing plants.

[There are five nuclear reactors at three locations in Florida: Progress Energy’s Crystal River plant, 80 miles north of Tampa; Florida Power & Light’s St. Lucie 1 and St. Lucie 2 in Jensen Beach, 10 miles southeast of Ft. Pierce, and FPL’s Turkey Point 3 and Turkey Point 4, just 25 miles south of Miami. The St. Lucie reactors are some 180 miles south of Palm Coast. The Crystal River reactor is 140 miles west of Palm Coast.

The distance between Palm Coast and the Crystal River nuclear reactor is exactly the same distance separating Tokyo and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, where workers have been struggling to battle a potential meltdown contain the most serious nuclear disaster since the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986. There are also two nuclear-power reactors at the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant in Baxley, Ga. (Unit 1 and Unit 2). Those are roughly 186 miles from Palm Coast.]

“This disaster serves to highlight both the fragility of nuclear power plants and the potential consequences associated with a radiological release caused by earthquake related damage,” Markey wrote NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko in a March 11 letter.

Specifically, Markey raised questions about a reactor design the NRC is reviewing for new plants that has been criticized for seismic vulnerability. The NRC has yet to make a call on the AP1000 reactor, which is manufactured by Westinghouse. But according to Markey, a senior NRC engineer has said the reactors concrete shield building could shatter “like a glass cup” under heavy stress.

[In January 2009, Florida’s Progress Energy contracted with Westinghouse Electric Company LLC and The Shaw Group Inc.’s Power Group for the engineering, procurement and construction of two for two 1,105-net megawatt nuclear reactors for a proposed, $17 billion nuclear power plant in Levy County, less than 140 miles west of Palm Coast. If approved and built, the project would be among the first nuclear plants in the country to be constructed on a new site in more than 30 years, and it will involve development of one of the single largest transmission infrastructure projects in Florida’s history. In February 2010, Westinghouse put off building the Levy nuclear plant at least three years due to licensing issues. The NRC originally rejected the design for the Westinghouse reactor. Westinghouse is owned by Toshiba, a Japanese company.]

The New York Times reported last week that the NRC has reviewed the concerns raised by the engineer, John Ma, and concluded that the design is sufficient without the upgrades Ma recommended. Westinghouse maintains that the reactor is safe.

Boiling water reactors, like the ones hit by the Japanese earthquake, are built like nested matroyshka dolls.

The inner doll, which looks like a gigantic cocktail shaker and holds the radioactive uranium, is the heavy steel reactor vessel. It sits inside a concrete and steel dome called the containment. The reactor vessel is the primary defense against disaster — as long as the radiation stays inside everything is fine.

The worry is that a disaster could either damage the vessel itself or, more likely, damage equipment that used to control the uranium. If operators cannot circulate water through the vessel to cool the uranium it could overheat and burn into radioactive slag — a meltdown.

Reports say a partial meltdown is suspected in two of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, which was hit by the 8.9 magnitude quake and ensuing tsunami.

Reactors have multiple layers of equipment to make sure this never happens. But last year, Markey asked Congress’s investigative agency, the Government Accountability Office, to look into a long list of nuclear safety issues, including earthquake and flood protection.

Markey cited the 2007 Chuetsu earthquake(6.6 magnitude) that hit the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant. The quake started a fire, spilled some low-level radioactive waste and damaged equipment that was not critical to the reactor. It led Japanese regulators to reassess earthquake danger near the plant, and Markey wanted GAO to see whether NRC had been on top of earthquake risk in the U.S.

How the Crystal River reactor works. Click on the image for larger view. Details here.

He also listed a few cases in which other natural disasters had damaged nuclear plants, like a 1998 tornado that knocked out power to the Davis-Besse plant outside Toledo, Ohio, or Hurricane Andrew, which knocked out power to the Turkey Point plant south of Miami site for five days in 1992. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav damaged the River Bend Nuclear Generation Station in St. Francisville, La.

At both Davis-Besse and Turkey Point, the plants’ emergency diesel generators kept the equipment running until crews fixed the power lines.

News reports have said the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station went to backup diesel power after the quake but lost it, along with the ability to keep cooling water flowing.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters that U.S. reactors don’t have adequate backup power. “We do not believe the safety standards for U.S. nuclear reactors are enough to protect the public today,” he told the news agency.

NRC spokesman David McIntyre said the agency was not granting interviews about the Japan quake. He pointed to the agency’s website, which does have a lot of information on the seismic issues.

For instance, NRC regulations require that every plant is built to survive an earthquake larger than the strongest ever recorded in the area. The agency says it periodically updates earthquake estimations as more detailed information becomes available.

Most recently, the NRC spent five years reassessing earthquake risk for nuclear plants in the Midwest and eastern United States. The results of the study, which were released last September, confirmed that the plants were built to withstand the heaviest quake likely for their area.

However, the NRC found that the risk of earthquake was greater than expected in some areas, so the agency plans further research.

In an NRC meeting on earthquake safety last September, Torrey Yee, an engineer for the San Onofre nuclear plant near San Diego, said designers evaluate two levels of earthquakes: the maximum possible quake for a site; and an “operating basis” quake, usually about half of the maximum strength.

The critical structures and equipment at the plant are built to withstand the maximum quake, and the plant has to shut down for inspection if it sustains a quake higher than the operating basis.

The 104 commercial reactors in the United States produce 20 percent of the nation’s power.


–John Sullivan, Special to ProPublica

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26 Responses for “Disaster Ready? 5 Nuclear Reactors in Florida, 3 Of Them Within 180 Miles of Palm Coast”

  1. Tom Brown says:

    Don’t forget the 2 nukes in Georgia, and 2 more on the drawing board. As the crow flies, they may be closer than the St. Lucie plants.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Thanks Jim, and thank you Tom for that reminder: the article has been updated to include the two reactors in Southern Georgia. Couldn’t figure out why those Vidalia onions in the FlaglerLive pantry were glowing.

  2. Jim Guines says:

    Although you scare the living hell out of me with articles like this one, I have to appreciate your effort to share the information about what could possibly happen with these things. I thank FlaglerLive for this type of reporting.

  3. PC MAN says:

    I’m sure the safety of our nuclear reactors is high on the agenda of rick scott and the rest of the republican controlled government. But if for some reason the shit does hit the fan there is always Carter,Clinton,Obama,Pelosi and Reid to blame it on, oh and Muslims too.

  4. Well... says:

    I grew up under the shadows, literally of a nuclear reactor (and no not 3 mile island, I was not born for that event). Every day on the way to school we passed by the double set of towers. One day the sirens blasted and a warning went out on the radio and the airwaves, potential stage 3 incident at the reactor. We had to gather everything we could in about 15 minutes and evacuate. We were lucky, they were able to avert disaster. Yes, it was scary but this is just another of humanities creations that we have to deal with. It is a shame that solar and wind power do not have the same economic punch that oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy do because then maybe people would take that form of energy seriously. People need to take into context what happened in Japan too, a 9.0 earthquake and a huge tsunami. Yes, there is still danger but you cannot live your life in fear, be prepared and be alert that is about all you can do.

  5. dlf says:

    PC Man: another SA remark. Obama is not backing down from his faith in this type of power, do you have a better plan, or do just want to blame someone for something that has not happened. May be we should ban cars they kill thousands each year, then we can blame Henry Ford. It is people like you who give Americans a bad name, brainless, comes to mind. I bet you do not blame Scott or Obama for your life style, someone must be paying someone to take care of your sorry ass.

  6. NortonSmitty says:

    I was recruited into the Navy Nuclear Power program under Admiral Hyman Rickover, who was in total command of the technology from it’s inception and is considered the Father of Nuclear Power. He is the sole reason we have never had a deadly nuclear incident in the western world. His standards were initially set so high that the experimental reactors, mainly the Westinghouse Beta units that were used on the Nautilus submarine and the first Beaver Valley 1 power plant south of Pittsburgh in the ’50’s to 3 Mile Island never had an accident. BV#1 was operated by the Navy from start up in 1957 to it’s decommissioning in 1982. The Admiral was certain that only the Military was capable of safely running this dangerous technology safely. Running them solely for profit would inevitably prove disastrous. Looks like we will find out soon in Japan.

    To get into the Navy program, you had to score in the top 1/2 of 1 percent in the qualification tests. Then, 96 of every 100 washed out before graduation, including me. Go figure. He was such a pain in the ass regarding safety he was forced into retirement at 85 by GE setting him up accepting a free briefcase on his birthday for Gods sake. Then they lowered his standards,but even these lesser regulations are higher than they ever were in the Soviet Union as evidenced by Chernobyl. The world will forever owe him a debt of gratitude for this. He understood that this technology was somewhere between a boiler and a bomb, and that is if it was operated to the highest possible standards.

    He is probably spinning in his grave today to see that even the Japanese are so lax, lazy, greedy or ignorant to mount only one back-up Diesel generator on ground level in a Tsunami zone. Understand that this generator is the only thing providing cooling water that will prevent a catastrophic core meltdown in an emergency. This is unbelievably stupid, but then to put in underground fuel tanks that can be so easily flooded makes me think that there is a Three Stooges Nuclear Construction company somewhere near Osaka.

    Poor Japan. I fully expect to wake up tomorrow morning and see on CNN that Godzilla and Mothra are approaching Tokyo.

  7. County Worker says:

    THE SKY IS FALLING, THE SKY IS FALLING! My drive home everyday is more dangerous than any nuclear power plant. Why is no one frightened by the thousands of tons of hazardous materials that pass mere miles from Palm Coast by rail and interstate every single day. All it takes is one careless driver and bam, instant catastrophe. Now matter how well engineered of infrastructure is mother nature will show us who is really in charge.

  8. PC MAN says:

    dlf might I suggest a new screen name for you ? Being a flag waving teabagger like yourself you can join the other baggers or bagee’s with a patriotic moniker, how about “Johnny Taxpayer” or “Live within my means” or “Palin2012”.
    Also I think Mr. Ford would have blamed the Jews for all auto deaths.

  9. William says:

    Isn’t it about time we looked more closely at Pebble Bed and/or Thorium reactors?

  10. dlf says:

    PC Man(?) you just continue to amaze me with your talent to write words that say nothing, did you go to a government school to learn how to do this?, or is it an inborn trait?

  11. Kevin says:

    DLF don’t waste your time over someone such as PC Man who is clearly an idiot. Just reflect back on this comment of his to spotlight the fact he is an ignoramous:

    “I’m sure the safety of our nuclear reactors is high on the agenda of rick scott and the rest of the republican controlled government. But if for some reason the shit does hit the fan there is always Carter,Clinton,Obama,Pelosi and Reid to blame it on, oh and Muslims too.”

    He starts with an imbicilic assumption followed with the standard lib-progressive rhetoric where he in essence accuses republicans, conservatives, Christians for all the ailments of this world, then childishly spins it thinking he sounds smart. In fact we all know…(do you like that you retards out there) that they only are responsible for only some of the ailments-P/Ls are the cause of everything else. Give them control of things for two years and nothing but disasters occur or nothing at all. Even though they have the reigns, they still blame the other side of the isle. Even self professed ducated people such as Norton Smitty claims to be, are dumbed down from the mental disorder unique to liberal dims.

  12. William says:


    The lab called.

    Your brain is ready.

    Lengthy, nonsensical screed in 3…2…1…

  13. NortonSmitty says:

    Kevin, please! Just shut up. Your embarrassing us all.

  14. palmcoaster says:

    I totally agree with you Norton S. regarding “tea cup holder” Kevin and co.
    I also give my thanks to Flagler Live for this valuable information. These plants originally are supposed to have a life span of only 40 years and the utilities owners get to be greedy trying to get more years out of their use than they should. Also I heard today in TV that 2 workers on one manager quit few years ago from the reactors design at GE because of the flaws that their employer was approving those nuclear reactors to be put on the market. Practically described as crystal domes only in case of unexpected failures. Just whatever rubber stamped as the public doesn’t know jack! Also every time one of this things fail the tax payers fund the replacement in its majority! Would be nice that when I have equipment failure in my private business the tax payers will pay for it other than me, the owner. Greed is the name of the game that is dooming our society, except the top 1%.,%5EDJI,%5EGSPC,TBT,XLF,XLV,GLD&sec=topStories&pos=8&asset=&ccode=

  15. William says:

    Another valid question to ask is how many plants are licensed and/or using MOX fuel.

    Some of the articles I’ve come across, written by experts in the field, suggest MOX is somewhat more difficult to handle, and due to the Plutonium content is directly lethal (as if U-235 wasn’t bad enough).

  16. Kevin says:

    William and et al:

    I just imagine you and the others pretending to be sophisticated people-you specifically with grandchildren and such, yet look at what you and your pals write and say (I’m not saying I don’t strike back though when prodded. Your comments simply lend credence to my comments. I’ve pegged your immature, angry cluster more than once and obviously, I’ve pressed nailed you again.

    What fun it would be to meet men like yourselves, letting me match the faces with that of the person who makes such stupid comments. You are like a bunch of chimps, clustered together and yelling to build some courage and as your defense mechanism. You show a weak control of your limbic systems much like that of a person with impaired cognitive states regardless of your BS education or anything else you use as a crutch to feel good about yourselves.

    I’ll leave you posers alone to enjoy each other.

  17. palmcoaster says:

    It is time to look into solar, ocean tides and wind power with windmills installed out of our shores, that will have cage protectors to prevent birds flying into them and being killed. Also those wealthy new homes owners should be requested to use solar energy panels allover their roofs and make those houses energy self sufficient. Should be done thru a tax right off to be refunded once the system is working and paying itself off on a monthly basis. A mid size home solar system is more or less $40,000 nowadays and provides the energy needed and the additional to be sold to the local utility as well with all the solar panels covering the entire roof. I would install it if I were building a new homes is costlier to install in existing roofs. If so much greed would not be ruling most corporations, these nuclear plants would not be in place today endangering our environment and human kind.

  18. NortonSmitty says:

    Oh Kevin, I too dream of meeting you face to face someday. I imagine it would be like a little slice of Heaven! I swoon just imagining the chance to sit at your feet and gaze at such a magnificent pile of conservative wisdom. My little brain is all aquiver trying to contemplate this awesome educational opportunity!

  19. William says:


    It would be refreshing to hear you add something to the conversation. The topic at hand is Nuclear Safety. This is not a conservative or liberal issue, it concerns all life on our planet. Why don’t you set aside the liberal bashing for a moment and let’s hear your thoughts on some of the options available.

    How about solar and tidal energy?

    What are your thoughts on Pebble Bed reactors? How about Thorium as an alternate fuel?

    Do you have concerns about the use of MOX fuel which, as I understand it, is blended-down Plutonium from decommissioned Nuclear Weapons mixed with Uranium 235?

    If you want to put these concerns into real context, watch your daughter play and ask yourself if you want her to grow up (or die) in a nuclear wasteland.

    Everyone has ideas, and not all of them are bad. Believe it or not, I AM interested in hearing yours.

  20. Kevin says:

    William not that this topic excedes my understanding however I was only interest in pointing your noses to the poop you and the boys (actually that idiot PC Man is where it began this time, not you two) laid on the ground at DLF. As a side note–I have made many good comments and never we’re they allowed to exist without someone attacking me personally for them. I’m no cry baby over it, its just a fact.

    This topic is obviously technically very complex and I have no comments as to any solution. If I did I wouldn’t be here writing you guys but out working by consulting on the issue. Enjoy the article and the discussions in peace henceforth.

  21. BEEBob says:

    After reading all these posts I’ve decided you are all morons. None of you have a clue how a nuclear power plant works and neither do I. My son graduated from Navy Nuclear Power school which is 2 yrs of 5-7 days a week for 8-10 hours a day including operating a real live plant. The drawings on this site and in the media are so simplified it’s ridiculous. My son has never heard of a boiling water reactor like the ones in Japan. Bottom line, we need nuclear power or depend on the arabs.

  22. William says:

    How kind of you to paint with so broad a brush. It makes one wonder where the word “moron” would be correctly applied.

  23. MEDIA ADVISORY – For Immediate Release – March 29, 2011
    Green Party calls for safety shut-down & phase-out of nuclear power plants in state, citing Fukushima disaster and unacceptable risks & costs to public
    The Green Party of Florida

    Legal action vs Westinghouse reactor design- April 6th, 2011
    AP1000 Oversight Group / Jim Warren, NC WARN / 919-416-5077
    New Reactor Model Faces Legal Challenge
    Japan’s nuclear crisis fortifies a senior NRC expert’s concerns about new Westinghouse design, and industry pressure caused regulators to rush approval, says watchdog alliance

  24. GSWEENEY says:

    FPL does not own the nuclear plant in Citrus County and never has. It is owned by Progress Energy, FL, formerly Florida Power Corporation (FPC). FPL (No longer in existence because they changed names to Nextera) own St. Lucie and Turkey Point in South Florida.

    There isn’t even a nuclear plant pictured in the photo. You are looking at 4 fossil plants that burn coal. Crystal River Units 1, 2, 4, & 5. It seems that your source of research is the Simpsons.

    Good luck for the wind power enthusiasts. Not even my engineer friends that work at wind facilities think that option is viable. As far as coal – take a tour through a plant and witness the amount of resources we are burning as we blow smoke (now filtered) into the air.

    Nuke is safe if managed properly and FAR cheaper than any alternative. Take a look at the tragedy in Japan to see how many people died due to the earthquakes and flooding – it is sad. Now take a look at how many died due to the amount of radiation released. Take into account the risks associated with nukes and figure out how much your electric bill would be without them.

    • Roberto says:

      GSWEENEY, you are misinformed… there is plenty of research of the harm of nuclear power plants do to surrounding communities and environment. The amount damage from the full nuclear melts downs in 3 of the reactors in Japan will take generations to clean up, meanwhile the world via the Pacific is being poisoned. But, we get a cheaper electric bill.

      Florida needs to go solar… that is our future.

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