Florence flooding limits road access to Duke nuclear plant

(Reuters) - Duke Energy Corp DUK.N said on Monday that its Brunswick nuclear power plant in North Carolina remained safely shut down despite limited road access to the site due to flooding from storm Florence.

The Brunswick nuclear plant is seen in Southport, North Carolina, U.S. in this handout photo provided September 17, 2018. Courtesy Duke Energy/Handout via REUTERS

The remnants of Florence, which came ashore as a hurricane on Friday, are still dropping heavy amounts of rain on the already waterlogged Carolinas, with officials warning the worst is yet to come as swollen rivers pose a growing threat.

Duke spokeswoman Mary Kathryn Green said there was road access to the Brunswick site but it was “limited access.” She said there were about 300 people at the plant. There are usually more than 900 workers.

Over the weekend, Duke said that on-site conditions had prohibited the plant staff “from accessing the site via personal vehicles due to flooding of local roads,” according to an unusual event report made available on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website on Monday.

An unusual event is the lowest of the NRC’s emergency classifications.

Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the NRC’s Region 2 office in Atlanta, said the company issued the report because regulations and plant procedures required multiple overland routes to the plant.

Ledford said Brunswick never lost access to offsite power and there was no flooding at the plant, which sits about 20 feet (6.1 meters) above sea level.

Duke started shutting the two reactors at the 1,870-megawatt plant on Thursday, before the storm hit the coast. One megawatt can power about 1,000 U.S. homes.

Brunswick is located about four miles (6.4 km) from the coast, near the town of Southport about 30 miles south of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Nuclear plants have procedures that require they shut a safe amount of time before hurricane force winds are expected to reach the site.

The two reactors at the plant, which entered service in 1975 and 1977, are of similar design to some of the reactors damaged at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Since Fukushima, all U.S. reactors have been upgraded with additional safety equipment, including portable pumps and generators to keep cooling water circulating through the reactor in case the plant loses offsite power.

Separately, Duke said on Saturday it released some stormwater that may have come into contact with coal ash from a landfill at the company’s Sutton power plant in Wilmington.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien