Three unplanned reactor shutdowns at Florida Power and Light's Turkey Point Nuclear Facility have prompted federal regulators to increase its safety presence. But officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission say there is nothing to be worried about.
"Overall, the Turkey Point plant continues to operate safely," said NRC Region II Administrator Victor McCree in a statement. "However, these shutdowns point to potential performance issues, and we want to ensure that the company addresses them appropriately."
According to the NRC's quarterly review in April, one of the plant's two nuclear reactors was not functioning properly, so the group hiked the plant's "safety color" from green to white. Yellow and red indicate higher-level safety issues.
The current license for Unit 3, the malfunctioning rector that began operation in 1972, expires in 2032.
In addition to two nuclear reactors, Turkey Point includes three gas-powered generating units.
Roger Hannah, an NRC spokesman in Atlanta, said it draws a red flag whenever three shutdowns occur within a 7,000-hour window. Seven-thousand hours is about 292 days.
As part of federal safety guidelines, the reactors are designed to automatically shut down during a malfunction.
On Feb. 11, the unit automatically tripped due to the failure of a condenser vacuum. On Feb. 18, the unit was manually tripped when workers discovered a problem with a reactor coolant pump. A March 13 shutdown was automatic after its turbine stop valves closed.
Florida Keys Electric Cooperative, which buys power from Florida Power and Light, was not affected by the shutdowns, according to spokeswoman Nikki Dunn. FKEC provides power from Marathon to Key Largo.
According to Hannah, the NRC will conduct a follow-up inspection to figure out why the plant isn't functioning properly.
"There doesn't appear to be a central cause for the three shutdowns," Hannah said.
County emergency officials say the closures shouldn't worry the public.
"This does not pose any threat to anyone outside the plant," said Monroe County Emergency Services Director Irene Toner.
Toner said her office and Upper Keys emergency teams regularly participate in drills at Turkey Point, including one set for June 18 and 19.
In April 2012, the NRC fined FPL $140,000 for "low to moderate" safety violations at the nuclear plant. FPL failed to maintain the plant's emergency response by not reporting that its Technical Support Center was not fully functional on two different occasions over seven months in 2010-11, the commission said. Plant personnel had disabled part of the ventilation system, which could have exposed employees to radiation, the commission said.
The Homestead nuclear facility employs about 800 people, many of whom live in the Upper Keys. Its power is also sold to energy companies throughout Monroe County. According to FPL's website, the plant provides power to 840,000 homes.