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Reactor shutdowns prompt inspections at Turkey Point

After three unplanned nuclear reactor shutdowns, federal regulators on Thursday said they are stepping up oversight of Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point facility.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission stressed there was no threat to the public from the shutdowns of Unit 3, one of two reactors at Turkey Point, three times in February and March. The shutdowns involved problems with unit’s condenser, turbine and pumps, not the central radioactive core.

“Overall, the Turkey Point plant continues to operate safely,’’ said NRC regional 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.’’

FPL spokeswoman Bianca Cruz said the utility had “already conducted thorough evaluations and put appropriate actions in place to prevent recurrence.’’ FPL, she said in a statement, intended to share its findings with regulators during inspections planned by NRC.

Cruz said safety was FPL’s “first priority.”

“Each shutdown was completed safely and efficiently with equipment functioning properly, and operators carefully following their detailed procedures,’’ she said.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said the shutdown nudged Turkey Point from a green, for good, performance rating into a white ranking that reflects “low to moderate safety significance.’’ Yellow and red ratings indicate increasingly serious problems.

“It’s not an everyday occurrence but at any given time there are a handful of plants around the country that have white performance indicators,’’ he said. FPL’s St. Lucie plant, for instance, was temporarily under a white rating last year, he said.

“When you have more than a normal number... of unplanned shutdowns, we want to make sure there aren’t any common factors,’’ Hannah said. Three shutdowns in such a short period warranted additional inspections from the agency, he said. Teams of NRC investigators will visit the site over the next few months.

FPL reported three shutdowns to the NRC, once while the reactor was operating, two others as workers were at various stages of powering it back up.

On Feb. 11, Unit 3 safety systems automatically tripped the reactor off due to the loss of condenser vacuum, which converts water into steam that powers the generator turbines.

On Feb. 18, workers manually shut down the reactor as it was powering back up when they detected a leaking reactor coolant pump.

On March 13, after the pump was repaired, the unit automatically shut down again as it was being brought back on line because of problems with a turbine control system.

Hannah said the reactor is up and operating safely now.