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After 3 unplanned shutdowns at Turkey Point nuclear plant, feds launch 'special inspection'

Miami Herald

Aug. 31--After three unplanned nuclear reactor shutdowns over three days this month, federal regulators have launched a "special inspection" at Florida Power & LIght's Turkey Point plant.

In a statement issued Monday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it was inspecting the plant this week to determine why one of the reactors in the two-unit facility "tripped" or shut down three times between Aug. 17 and Aug. 19. Such visits from the federal agency that oversees nuclear power plants aren't unheard of but are unusual.

The NRC said FPL had supplied different explanations for each event.

On Aug. 17, Turkey Point operators manually shut down the reactor, running at 90 percent output, responding to "rising steam generator water levels." On Aug. 19, the plant's protection system automatically shut down the reactor during startup when an instrument sensed higher-than-expected neutron activity in the reactor core. On Aug. 20, operators manually shut down the reactor after the loss of a steam generator feed water pump, the NRC said in the statement.

"The inspectors will review the circumstances of each trip, assess the company's response, operator performance, corrective actions, and evaluate the application of industry operating experience," the NRC statement said, adding the plant was not operating at full capacity when the shutdowns happened.

FPL spokesman Peter Robbins said the plant's safety systems worked as designed.

"In all three cases, the reactor was shut down in a matter of seconds, and all safety systems responded as designed," he said.

"We welcome this opportunity to share the details of equipment performance and the actions operators took to keep Turkey Point in a safe condition during the recent unplanned shutdowns," Robbins said.

Over the past few years FPL has faced criticism and legal challenges over Turkey Point's aging cooling system, a unique canal network that doesn't exist anywhere else in the U.S. The problems from the leaking canal water, which created a saltwater plume encroaching into the adjacent freshwater aquifer, have led state and county regulators to cite FPL for polluting the waters in Biscayne Bay.

The plant last year won federal approval to continue to operate through at least 2053 -- an unprecedented decision by regulators to extend the operating lifespan of nuclear reactors to 80 years.

A five-person NRC inspection team including a senior reactor analyst is at Turkey Point today. The on-site inspection is expected to last a week, and a report documenting the results is expected to be issued 45 days after the end of the investigation, NRC said.


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