SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

St. Lucie Unit 2 Safety and Consumer Concerns


StLucie_50mileradiusWith over 1 million people living within 50 miles of Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) St. Lucie Unit 2 nuclear reactor near Fort Pierce, and about 50 miles north of West Palm Beach, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) continues to believe that there are serious safety concerns that must be more closely scrutinize despite a December 2014 decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Independent experts hired by SACE have learned that since 2007, FPL has operated Unit 2 with a substantially changed safety design to its steam generators that appears to have never been analyzed for its safety by its federal overseer, the NRC. Even after inspections, during three different scheduled fueling outages since 2009 that showed high and increasing damage to Unit 2’s steam generator tubes, the NRC gave FPL a pass every time. The most recent steam generator inspection tube report issued in October 2014 continues to show severe and substantial damage. It’s important to realize that the design of Unit 1’s steam generators did not undergo these safety design changes when the replacement steam generators were installed and they are not experiencing the same severe steam generator degradation found at Unit 2. We want to know why Unit 2 has experienced these problems and believe the public has the right to know.

St. Lucie Unit 2 is unique as no other operating nuclear reactor in the country has such a serious rate of tube degradation or cumulative amount of degradation.

Though safety is certainly the paramount concern, there are consumer implications as well. The fairly recent uprate project, which allowed FPL to increase the electricity generation by both of St. Lucie’s reactors, was considered “new nuclear generation” under Florida’s nuclear cost recovery clause, often referred to as Florida’s “nuclear tax.” According to the Office of Public Counsel (OPC), $1.2 billion was spent on the combined St. Lucie uprate project. We are very concerned that if the replacement steam generators in reactor Unit 2 are degrading at an accelerated rate, FPL customers may have paid for these key components that will not last as long as originally anticipated and new steam generators may be required much sooner.

To help sort through this complicated situation, we wanted to provide the information we developed, researched, and found useful. SACE has demanded that the NRC and FPL do the same but thus far we have not observed their willingness to comply. Of note, the scheduled 30-day refueling outage which began March 3 was anything but “routine” as it extended 51 days, with restart beginning on April 23, 2014 — due reportedly in part to an “errant piece of metal” that was left during the refueling outage and caused damage to a steam generator tube and eventually found in the cooling system on April 12. The steam tube generator inspection report was due to the NRC within 180-days of restart; FPL stated at a NRC meeting regarding St. Lucie Unit 1’s steam generator report, which showed increased tube wear since the uprate, that the report for Unit 2 would be issued to the NRC on October 1, 2014.

FPL’s first steam generator inspection tube report since the uprate occurred for Unit 2 was released and became publicly available on October 7, 2014. The troubling information in the report plus the NRC Commissioners’ failure thus far to provide any decision on our earlier claims prompted us to again retain nuclear engineer and expert Arnie Gundersen along with legal representation by Attorney Diane Curran. We then filed with the NRC in early November an amended hearing request with a second supplemental declaration. As Mr. Gundersen stated in his December reply declaration, “St. Lucie Unit 2 is unique as no other operating nuclear reactor in the country has such a serious rate of tube degradation or cumulative amount of degradation. The fact that a 17% increase is within the 24% anticipated by FPL does not make it acceptable from a safety standpoint.”

As for next steps? Our concerns began back in March 2014 and our last response was filed with the NRC on May 27. There had been no response from the Commission since and when FPL’s steam generator tube inspection report for Unit 2 was finally issued in October, it was clear that the degradation had continued and was alarming. Our concern over the safe operation of this reactor prompted us to go the extra mile and file an amended hearing request and second supplemental expert declaration with the NRC in early November. On December 3, the back-and-forth filings among ourselves, FPL and the NRC Staff concluded. On December 19, the NRC Commissioners rendered a decision and issued an order, rejecting our request for a public hearing. We stand by the extensive evidence we presented and request that the Florida Public Service Commission investigate these concerns given the failure of the NRC to do so.

Relevant Blog Posts

Legal Filings/Responses/Decisions (in chronological order)

SACE Press/Select St. Lucie 2 Media Coverage

Additional Resources/Information
Links to resources referenced during SACE’s February 24, 2014 media teleconference:

Find out how far you live or work from St. Lucie Unit 2 or from other nuclear plants across the country by clicking here. Are you within the 10-mile evacuation zone, which has been recommended to be extended to 50 miles given the devastating accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan in March 2011 and at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union back in April 1986?