Over 722,000 without power as Florence batters Carolinas

Brunswick Nuclear station

Brunswick plant onsite NRC Inspector Galen Smith, had no worries that the Brunswick plant would survive the storm easily.

Federal officials expressed confidence the six nuclear power plants in Hurricane Florence's path are safe, but some experts aren't so sure, warning that flooding and torrential rains could overwhelm their defenses.

Three of these - North Carolina's Brunswick Nuclear Plant, and South Carolina's Robinson and Vogtle Nuclear Stations - are located in areas that will likely see the worst of Florence's impacts.

According to the NRC, there are specific sets of rules nuclear power plant operators must follow leading up to landfall of a hurricane or tropical storm in the vicinity of the plant.

As of 11 a.m. Hurricane Florence was about 485 miles southeast of Wilmington, N.C., with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.

According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are 12 nuclear plants in the Carolinas that make electricity for the region.

"The [Brunswick] plant already has procedures in place both to shut down well in advance of hurricane effects actually occurring on site", Burnell said. But Duke Energy Corp and the NRC have gone back and forth about whether the facility meets the new requirements, as the plant was originally created to protect itself against only 3.6 feet of storm surge.

Hurricane Florence nuclear plants
The two nuclear plants and the predicted path of Hurricane Florence. Google Maps

President Trump declared states of emergency for North and SC and Virginia, opening the way for federal aid.

Engineers and staff will be remaining on site at the plant to monitor the situation.

"This is no ordinary storm and customers could be without power for a very long time - not days, but weeks", said Fowler.

Flooding at nuclear plants became more of a concern after a 2011 quake and subsequent tsunami in Japan caused one of the worst nuclear disasters since the 1986 Chernobyl incident. Flooding, combined with the storm surge, is a major concern for this storm, but the industry has had 7 years to adapt and strengthen their safety measures.

According to CNN, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now monitoring nine different sites for their potential to release toxic chemicals into the environment, should they become compromised by flooding.

He said each plant has resident inspectors on site, and one or two additional inspectors at sites that are expected to be more directly impacted by the storm.

First death during Hurricane Florence confirmed in Pender County
He said parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges - the bulge of seawater pushed ashore by the hurricane - as high as 10 feet. Still, he said: "I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth". "We are stuck in the attic".

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