A Florida nuclear plant meltdown would be unlikely, say federal and state officials.
Joey Ledford, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission public affairs officer, said his organization regulates 104 nuclear units in the U.S., including the two closest to Southwest Florida but on the east coast — the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant and Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station two miles east of Homestead.
The largest earthquake in Japan’s modern history struck Sendai, Japan, on March 11.
“It’s important to know that all U.S. plants are built to withstand natural disasters,” Ledford said.
“That’s the problem in Japan, they lost power. American plants are designed so that this would never be a problem.”
The St. Lucie plant has a contingency plan in place should the power go out, making a meltdown unlikely, Ledford said. The plant has two emergency generators for each of its two reactors to help pump water, he said.
The water helps cool the reactors, preventing a meltdown.
Also, U.S. nuclear plants have resident inspectors on hand to monitor the safety of the reactors.
“They’re there to ensure the plant operates in a way to protect public safety and the environment,” Ledford said.
If a meltdown did occur, Collier County officials said, they’re confident it wouldn’t effect this area.
“Collier County is well outside the 50-mile emergency planning zone if there was controlled release from the plant in Turkey Point,” said Dan Summers, director of the Collier County bureau of emergency services. Summer also worked 19 years in emergency planning in Wilmington, N.C.
He said the county participates in voluntary communication exercises with the Florida Department of Health, the state Division of Emergency Planning and Miami-Dade County, where the Turkey Point nuclear plant is located.
Lauren McKeague, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, is confident the state will not have to deal with a natural disaster of the same magnitude as the one in Japan.
“The threat of a major tsunami or earthquake to Florida’s residents and communities is very low,” McKeague wrote in an e-mail.
The March 11 quake in Japan triggered a tsunami, which knocked out the normal and backup cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that pump water into the reactors.
Japanese officials believe this caused a partial meltdown. Three of the plants six reactors were damaged causing the release of radioactive steam into the atmosphere.
There are concerns in Japan that the damage could lead to an all-out meltdown.
Some advocacy groups speculated about the safety of nuclear reactors.
Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program for Public Citizen – a national consumer advocacy group – said there’s no immediate risk to a nuclear plant causing deaths in the U.S.
Even so, he said: “The fact is nuclear power is not 100 percent safe.”
No other nation is more prepared for tsunamis and earthquakes than Japan, Slocum said.
“Even people whose job it is to sit around and plan for natural and man-made disaster can’t account for everything,” he said.
“The punishment for failure with nuclear power is severe and a lot less forgiving than other energy sources.”