The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission declared an “unusual event” this weekend at the atomic plant on North Carolina’s soaked southern coast due to “site access issues,” but said there were no safety concerns. An engineer said roads around the plant were largely impassable and that supplies were being flown in to stranded workers.
About 30 miles to the north, a Duke landfill in Wilmington holding potentially toxic coal ash suffered further damage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Duke said about 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash flowed from its Sutton Plant near the Cape Fear river. While the EPA called it a second breach, the company said it’s all part of the same “erosion event.”
“None of the roads are passable,” NRC spokesman Joey Ledford told the News & Observer. “The plant is safe. The reactors are in hot stand-by mode 3 shutdown.”
Workers are sleeping on cots and using portable toilets because water is shut off at the facility and toilets can’t flush.
The plant can be accessed by one route due to floodwaters, but since there are not multiple routes available, the plant was placed under an “unusual event,” according to Ledford. A spokesperson for Duke Energy said the plant “remains safely shut down,” after shuttering operations before Florence’s hurricane-force winds arrived.
The spokesperson added that there is no flooding on the plant site, but the area is not fully accessible at this time. Some employees who live locally have been able to leave the nuclear plant and check on their homes, while others have made trips to local stores for supplies, the spokesperson added.
The Brunswick plant’s two reactors are of the same design as those in Fukushima, Japan, which infamously exploded and leaked radiation following a 2011 magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami. Following that disaster, federal regulators required all U.S. nuclear plants to perform upgrades to better withstand earthquakes and flooding.
According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are 12 nuclear plants in the Carolinas that make electricity for the region. These plants generally reside near a body of water because they require a constant water source for cooling purposes.