Archive for February 26, 2008

Nuclear Power Plant Shutdown Causes Electrical Outages Throughout State of Florida

MIAMI (AP) — A problem with Florida’s electrical grid caused a nuclear plant to automatically shut down Tuesday and intermittently cut power to up to 3 million people from Daytona Beach through the Florida Keys.Authorities said there were no safety concerns at the nuclear plant. While many areas were hit hard, the outages were short lived and only a few hundred thousand people lacked electricity for the evening commute home.

But traffic was even more miserable than usual in the Miami area as many stop lights briefly were without power, snarling roads. The outages occurred on a day when temperatures soared into the mid-80s and Floridians needed their air conditioning.

The Turkey Point nuclear plant south of Miami stopped operating around 1 p.m. in response to two power distribution lines going down between Miami and Daytona Beach due to “an equipment malfunction in a substation near Miami,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Kenneth Clark said.

“We don’t know the nature of the equipment malfunction,” he said.

A Florida Power & Light spokesman initially said its nuclear plant caused the outages to about a fifth of Florida’s population. But the utility’s nuclear spokesman, Dick Winn, later said grid problems caused both Turkey Point reactors about 25 miles south of downtown Miami to shut down.

“All the safety systems worked just like they were supposed to and both of those units are in stable condition right now,” he said.

The outages have no connection to terrorism, Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. No foul play was suspected, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said.

“There are no safety concerns. The reactors shut down as designed,” said Clark in a telephone interview. He said both reactors continued to have offsite electric power. He said two coal-burning power plants at Turkey Point also shut down.

The commission said based on reports from its resident inspectors at the plant, it was not immediately known what caused the initial drop in voltage from outside Turkey Point. But when the two reactors shut down it would have worsened the problem.

Florida emergency management officials said the outages cut power to about 2-3 million people, although FPL said the number was closer to 800,000. FPL estimated power should be restored by 6 p.m.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has responsibility for electricity grid reliability, said it wants to know whether there were any violations of federal grid reliability rules.

Outages were concentrated in the southeast portion of the state, including Miami, but were also reported in the southwestern and northeastern parts of the state as well as in the Florida Keys.

Jaime Hernandez, a spokesman for Miami-Dade County Department of Emergency Management, said no injuries have been reported so far. Officials said Miami International Airport, the Port of Miami and the area’s rail and bus transportation were working normally.

Several Miami-area hospitals switched to backup generators when the power went out. Miami-Dade schools were scheduled to be dismissed on time, and officials said school buses would be running.

By 2 p.m., most of northern downtown Miami appeared to be back to normal operation, including a campus of Miami Dade College and numerous stores and businesses. In the Florida Keys, spokesman Andy Newman said areas were without power for about 30 minutes, but it was back up as well.

In Miami’s western suburb of Doral, disappointed office workers sat under an awning at a strip mall, unable to buy lunch nor go anywhere else due to a sudden downpour.

Nearby, Panera Bread bakery servers enjoyed the unexpected smoking break at the height of the midday rush-hour, while their manager grumbled over lost sales.

Down the block at Starbucks Coffee Co., employees began handing out sandwiches they feared would go bad.

Nelson Suarez, 35, a manager for Asia sales at World Fuel Services, enjoyed the free lunch.

“I can’t work anyway since all the power is out, so at least something good came out of this,” he said.

In Collier County in the southwestern portion of the state, sheriff’s spokeswoman Karie Partington said officials were working to determine the extent of the outages.

In central Florida, the sheriff’s office in the Daytona Beach area confirmed power outages at traffic signals across its jurisdictions.

“I don’t have a handle on whether we’re experiencing residential or commercial outages,” said Gary Davidson, Volusia County sheriff’s spokesman. “I know we’re receiving reports of traffic lights out virtually throughout the county, from DeLand, Deltona, Ormond Beach, South Daytona to Debary.”

The first of Turkey Point’s two nuclear power units started operation in 1972. In March 2006, a tiny hole was found in a coolant pipe at the plant. The FBI determined it was vandalism, not sabotage. An out-of-state contractor hired to do routine maintenance was suspected of drilling the hole, the FBI said at the time. The public’s health and safety were not at risk, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said then.

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Interestingly enough, the headlines scream about “nuclear power plants”¬†shutting down, but nothing about the coal-fired generating stations that shut down as well.¬† Is coal just not as scary sounding as nuclear?¬† (Don’t tell that to the global warming people.)

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