When everybody is in charge, nobody is in charge

This week’s Florida power outage and resultant shutdown of the two Turkey Point nuclear plants raises a very important issue that the government needs to address. Firstly, the protection systems at Turkey Point appeared to work as designed to protect the units from an outside disturbance (this was not a Turkey Point initiated event). However, the shutdown of the Turkey Point units led to the cascading loss of other generating units and resulting major power outage affecting approximately 4 million people. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is responsible for the safe operation and shutdown of a nuclear power plant to protect the health and welfare of the public. However, the NERC is not responsible for continuation of power for a nuclear power plant. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) are responsible for grid reliability but not for nuclear power (see exclusions for nuclear plants in the NERC CIPs). This is important because approximately 20% of the generation in the US is from nuclear power. Almost all nuclear plants are very large base-load units (approximately 1000 MW each). Additionally, most nuclear plants have multiple units on site. Consequently, the loss of a nuclear unit or units can have very significant impacts on the reliability of the electric grid (see Northeast outage, Florida outage, etc). Currently, there is no government regulator (neither NRC nor FERC) responsible for continuity of nuclear power operation for grid reliability. Consequently, Congress needs to change the mandate for NRC and/or FERC to be responsible for nuclear plant continuity of power for grid reliability. Joe Weiss

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