Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

At least half a dozen nuclear power plants are in the direct path of Hurricane Florence in South and North Carolina. (Photo: Scribble Maps/Google Maps)

As 1.5 Million Flee Hurricane Florence, Worries Grow Over Half Dozen Nuclear Power Plants in Storm's Path

"Flooding-prone Brunswick Nuclear Plant among rickety old Fukushima-style reactors in likely path of Hurricane Florence."

Julia Conley

With 1.5 million residents now under orders to evacuate their homes in preparation for Hurricane Florence's landfall in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, the region faces the possibility of catastrophe should the storm damage one or more of the nuclear power plants which lie in its potential path.

As the Associated Press reported on Monday, "The storm's potential path also includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous eastern hog farms that store animal waste in massive open-air lagoons."

The plants thought to lie in the path of the hurricane, which is expected to make landfall on the Southeastern U.S. coast on Thursday, include North Carolina's Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant in Southport, Duke Energy Sutton Steam Plant in Wilmington, and South Carolina's V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville.

"Florence will approach the Carolina coast Thursday night into Friday with winds in excess of 100mph along with flooding rains. This system will approach the Brunswick Nuclear Plant as well as the Duke-Sutton Steam Plant," Ed Vallee, a North Carolina-based meteorologist, told Zero Hedge. "Dangerous wind gusts and flooding will be the largest threats to these operations with inland plants being susceptible to inland flooding."

Several nuclear power plants in North and South Carolina lie in the path of Hurricane Florence.

In 2015, the Huffington Post and Weather.com identified Brunswick as one of the East Coast's most at-risk nuclear power plants in the event of rising sea levels and the storm surges that come with them.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Hurricane Florence was thought to have the potential to cause "massive damage to our country" according to Jeff Byard, associate administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The storm was labeled a Category 4 tropical storm with the potential to become a Category 5 as it nears the coast, with 130 mile-per-hour winds blowing about 900 miles off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.

Meteorologists warned of hurricane-force winds in the region by mid-day Thursday, with storm surges reaching up to 12 feet or higher.

The 2011 Fukushima disaster remains the highest-profile nuclear catastrophe caused by a natural disaster. The tsunami that hit Japan in March of that year disabled three of the plant's reactors, causing a radioactive release which forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

In 2014, Shane Shifflett and Kate Sheppard at the Huffington Post reported on the risk storms like Florence pose to nuclear plants:

Most nuclear power facilities were built well before scientists understood just how high sea levels might rise in the future. And for power plants, the most serious threat is likely to come from surges during storms. Higher sea levels mean that flooding will travel farther inland, creating potential hazards in areas that may have previously been considered safe.

During hurricanes, many nuclear facilities will power down—but this is not a sure-fire way to avoid disaster, wrote Sheppard and Shifflett.

"Even when a plant is not operating, the spent fuel stored on-site, typically uranium, will continue to emit heat and must be cooled using equipment that relies on the plant's own power," they wrote. "Flooding can cause a loss of power, and in serious conditions it can damage backup generators. Without a cooling system, reactors can overheat and damage the facility to the point of releasing radioactive material."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Economists Fear Fed Minutes Show Central Bank Bent on 'Unleashing Mass Unemployment'

Continued interest rate hikes "risk a recession throwing millions out of work," a pair of experts warned.

Jake Johnson ·


Watchdog: Secret Service Didn't Notify Capitol Police of Threat to Pelosi Until After Jan. 6 Attack

"This is deeply disturbing and requires a full investigation," said one legal expert.

Jessica Corbett ·


Advocates Welcome Temporary Block on South Carolina's 6-Week Abortion Ban

"Today's decision is a huge relief for people who desperately need abortion care in South Carolina right now," said one reproductive rights lawyer.

Brett Wilkins ·


Federal Court Strikes Down Ruling That Blocked Biden's Drilling Moratorium

"Today's decision demonstrates how flawed the preliminary injunction issued in June 2021 was, and that Interior must quickly take action to reform the federal fossil fuel program," said one environmental lawyer.

Julia Conley ·


Two Weeks Before Payments Resume, Progressives Tell Biden 'Time to Cancel Student Debt'

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said that "we're having conversations daily with the White House and borrowers will know directly and soon from us when a decision is made."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo