Sunday, June 24, 2018
Opinion

Column: Safety of St. Lucie plant is assured

As a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a Tampa Bay area resident, I have serious concerns about the article recently appearing in the Tampa Bay Times titled "Cooling tubes at FPL St. Lucie nuke plant show significant wear."

I will focus on the issues relating to safety, specifically, mechanical wear in the tubes of a steam generator (boiler) at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant.

First and foremost, the article uses a baseless hypothetical that it frames as a "worst-case" scenario where a "tube bursts and spews radioactive fluid." This alarmist phraseology conjures a false image and an inaccurate characterization of the St. Lucie plant's safety.

A fact: On the rare occasion that one of the roughly 18,000 tubes in these heat exchangers leaks, it does not spew radioactive fluid into the environment. Instead, that water discharges into a well-isolated thick tank. Although this water can have slight levels of radioactivity, it is contained in a closed loop. Moreover, the steam generators and safety valves are inside sealed, reinforced-concrete containments. "Leak before break" is a major 20th century technical fact that strongly supports the safety framework used by nuclear power plants.

Nonetheless, this "tube-side" of the steam generators is treated as a safety issue because of the need to maintain the reactor cooling function, done primarily by water flowing through the generator tubes. Accordingly, the cooling water function of this system is complemented with redundant systems engineered into the design of these plants. Although some tubes do experience leaks in steam boilers (at both nuclear and nonnuclear power plants), it has not resulted in a public hazard.

This issue is not novel to the nuclear industry and not to the NRC. Over several decades of operating, fixing and replacing steam generators, the industry and the NRC have established detailed, technically sound protocols for analyzing and assessing tube wear in the context of safe operating margins. The protocols have been used at St. Lucie for the past seven years of the new steam generator's operation.

I am especially surprised at the ease with which the Times article dismisses a clear-cut, factual statement by a qualified NRC spokesman. Scott Burnell states: "The St. Lucie steam generator wear comes from existing, well-understood causes," and "There is no steam generator safety issue, nor tube integrity safety concern, at St. Lucie."

As the former chairman of the NRC, I can assure the people of Florida that when the NRC states that the issue is well-understood and that there is no safety issue nor tube integrity concern at St. Lucie, it is because there is none. It means that there is a sustained and substantiated consensus among the independent U.S. nuclear safety agency's technical experts and the plant operator's experts. In more than 40 years of dealing with safety-related matters inside and out of the NRC, I know this to be the truth.

The public health and safety of people who live within 50 miles of St. Lucie and beyond are protected by the demanding safety framework established by the nuclear power industry and confirmed by its regulators. No member of the public in the United States has ever been exposed to a radioactive hazard detrimental to their health from an operating nuclear power plant.

I am convinced that the NRC and the plant operator have rigorously reviewed the safety of the St. Lucie Plant prior to and after the power upgrade and concluded that the public health and safety is protected.

Nils Diaz, a resident of Pinellas County, served as a member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1996 to 2006 and was its chairman from 2003-06. Before then, he was professor and director of nuclear engineering sciences at the University of Florida. Diaz holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in nuclear engineering sciences from the University of Florida. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments
Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Itís hard to pick the biggest outrage in the financial and ethical swamp that has swallowed Tampa Bayís two primary job placement agencies, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Is it the boiler room atmosphere where CareerSource recruite...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18

Family separation crisis is not over

The family-separation crisis that President Donald Trump created is not over. The executive order Trump signed Wednesday purporting to end the routine tearing of children from their undocumented parents stands on uncertain legal ground. U.S. border a...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Veterans can help veterans deal with trauma resulting from military service in a way no one else can. Thatís the theory behind a special hotline set up in the Tampa Bay area that proponents are hoping to take statewide.The expansion would cost some $...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney generalís misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect ó prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18