Duke shuts down Brunswick nuclear plant ahead of Hurricane Florence
- Duke Energy is powering down its Brunswick nuclear plant in North Carolina ahead of Hurricane Florence making landfall on the state's coast, the utility said Thursday.
- Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm, but the National Weather Service (NWS) warns it will still cause "life-threatening" storm surges and "catastrophic" flooding across parts of the Carolinas. Duke estimates up to 3 million customers could lose power in the storm, but says it has 20,000 workers on hand to help with the recovery.
- In a call with reporters on Wednesday, Duke officials said a decision on whether to close the Brunswick plant had not been made. But on Thursday morning, a spokesperson told Reuters the company was working to power down the plant's two units, capable of generating a combined 1,870 MW.
Hurricane Florence has lost some speed, retreating from its peak as a Category 4 storm, but officials warn it remains dangerous. Winds are still above 100 mph and the most damage could come from flooding.
Duke says it is prepared and is bracing for the worst. The storm will be the first major hurricane of the season and will show how the sector responds after a trio of storms tested utility systems in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico last year — leaving some on the island without power for months.
Duke officials watching the storm's track on Thursday decided to close down the Brunswick plant, which is located about four miles from the coast. The company has six nuclear plants in the path of the storm, but Brunswick is by far the closest to the Atlantic Ocean.
"The magnitude of the storm is beyond what we have seen in years," Howard Fowler, Duke Energy's incident commander, said in a statement. "With the storm expected to linger, power restoration work could take weeks instead of days."
In addition to shutting down Brunswick, Duke and other regional utilities are also working to secure dozens of coal ash disposal facilities, which environmental groups worry could leak and release substance into nearby waterways.
Duke will perform inspections of its ash facilities as the storm passes, the company told Utility Dive this week, and is considering the use of drones for areas inaccessible to workers.
Duke's bigger worry, spokesperson Paige Sheehan said, are the cooling ponds at its fossil fuel power plants. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew flooded a pond at Duke's Lee coal plant in North Carolina, prompting outcry from environmental groups.
The utility says it has more than 20,000 workers in place to restore power — the company's largest ever resource mobilization.
More than 8,000 Duke workers in North and South Carolina are already in the area, and 1,700 workers from Duke Energy Midwest and 1,200 from Duke Energy Florida will also be on hand. Other utilities are sending help as well: Duke said it is expecting almost 10,000 workers from other power companies.
"This is no ordinary storm and customers could be without power for a very long time – not days, but weeks," said Fowler.
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