Oversight of Unit 1 at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant in Florida is increasing because of several unplanned shutdowns at the facility.

“Overall, the St. Lucie plant continues to operate safely,” said Victor McCree, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) regional administrator for the area that includes Florida. “However, these shutdowns point to performance issues and a trend that needs to be addressed.”

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Florida Power and Light Co. owns and operates the plant, which has two nuclear reactors: Units 1 and 2. The increased oversight applies only to Unit 1, which went online in 1976. Unit 2 began operating in 1983. Each reactor produces 839 megawatts of power.

Three recent outages are on record at Unit 1, said Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the commission.
They are:
Aug. 22: A large influx of jellyfish caused a decrease in circulating water to the main condenser.
Oct. 19: A water pump in the cooling system on the non-nuclear side of the plant failed.
March 31: A steam dump valve opened unexpectedly during testing of the steam bypass control system.

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In addition, the August and October outages were “complicated,” meaning the cause was not obvious or involved more than one system at the unit, Ledford said. The March outage is still under review.

“An unplanned outage, what we call ‘scrams’ or ‘trips,’ is not necessarily a bad thing,” Ledford said, “but if they happen too frequently, they can be an indication of trouble that needs to be investigated.”

All three of the shutdowns were manual rather than triggered automatically, said Michael Waldron, FPL’s nuclear communications director.

“Sometimes we make the conservative decision to safely shut down the plant well before an incident can become a potential problem,” Waldron said.

As part of the increased oversight, Ledford said, the commission will conduct an “intensive supplemental inspection” at Unit 1.

“Our people are at the plant every day doing inspections,” he said. “This supplemental inspection will involve sending in additional people from our office. At this point we don’t even know if the scrams are related. Part of the inspection will be to see if there is a common factor.”

Waldron said the outages “were all separate issues” but added that FPL officials “will be prepared to present all out information to the NRC inspectors. We take these issues very seriously.”

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