Safety Concerns Ignored as Federal Regulators Approve Restart of FPL’s St. Lucie 2 Reactor

Guest Blog | April 2, 2014 | Press Releases

Contact: Jeannie McKinney, Communications Coordinator, 865.235.1448, [email protected]

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy contends that serious safety issues have yet to be addressed, lack of transparency and regulatory scrutiny prevent public from knowing true risks and costs

Tampa, FL (April 2, 2014) – The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted during an affirmation session late yesterday afternoon to reject the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s stay motion to block the restart of Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) St. Lucie Unit 2 reactor located near Fort Pierce, Florida, about 50 miles north of West Palm Beach. St. Lucie Unit 2 has been shut down since early March for a planned refueling outage and inspection of its troubled steam generators.

Shortly after the Unit 2 shutdown began in March, SACE requested the NRC not to allow FPL to return the reactor to service until it held a public hearing regarding major changes made by FPL to the design of the steam generators, components that are critical for removal of heat from the reactor. FPL made significant changes to the original steam generator design in 2007, without notifying the public. The NRC technical staff went along with the design changes, despite the fact that the revised design may be responsible for the unprecedented degree of deterioration shown by the steam generators during inspections over the past five years. SACE’s legal filings were supported by an expert witness declaration from nuclear engineering expert Arnie Gundersen with Fairewinds Associates.

As expected, the Commission did not make a decision today on SACE’s hearing request. Instead, the Commission directed FPL and the NRC technical staff to respond by the end of April.

The St. Lucie Unit 2 reactor has the most damaged steam generator tubes of any operating reactor in the country according to NRC documents and media reports. This is the first refueling outage since FPL increased the power rating of the reactor in 2012, further stressing the already-damaged steam generator tubes. SACE requested that NRC conduct a public hearing on how and why the NRC technical staff effectively modified the operating license for St. Lucie Unit 2 reactor when it allowed FPL to operate the reactors with re-designed steam generators at an evident and growing risk to public safety.

Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, issued this statement in response to the NRC’s decision:

“Safety is our first concern and that is why we filed the stay motion – so that the extent of the damage to the steam generators could be known and shared with the public before St. Lucie Unit 2 went back online. We are disappointed but not surprised by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to allow restart of FPL’s St. Lucie Unit 2 nuclear reactor given the tremendous amount of discretion licensees are given to operate their nuclear reactors. However, we remain hopeful that once the facts are fully reviewed by the Commission, they will agree with us and grant our hearing request.

Second, we continue to have grave concerns about the lack of proper regulatory oversight in this case. We believe that FPL and the NRC haven’t properly documented changes that took place at St. Lucie Unit 2 that are causing damage to the steam generators. FPL is operating outside of their license and that was our motivation for filing the hearing request. We believe the evidence we presented, supported by an expert declaration from nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, will cause the Commission to grant our hearing request, which will allow them, and the public, to fully explore the evidence and information presented. We stand by our safety concerns and believe the proper action is for the Commission to grant our hearing request.

Third, we believe that FPL has not prudently managed or operated the St. Lucie Unit 2 steam generators and this is causing the unprecedented damage that will lead to premature replacement, potentially costing customers hundreds of millions of dollars. These are serious financial implications. The utility has changed the reactor design of St. Lucie Unit 2, misled the public about these changes and continues damaging a key component within the reactor during every fuel cycle – this must be investigated by the Florida Public Service Commission.”

SACE’s attorney, Diane Curran, said the Commission’s order requiring responses by FPL and the NRC Staff to SACE’s hearing request shows that the safety issues raised by SACE are serious. In order to have a full and fair discussion of the issues, she called on the NRC to publicly disclose information that is now being withheld, such as the initial results of the latest steam generator tube inspections by FPL and the NRC, which were conducted during the recent outage and may not be available for months. “Neighbors of this reactor and Florida ratepayers are entitled to this information as a matter of public accountability,” she asserted.

Access additional information, including the Commission’s order, here.