- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2017

Two nuclear power plants stand directly in the path of Hurricane Irma, further complicating the government’s efforts to prepare for the massive storm and leading state officials to say they’ll shut the facilities down if the hurricane barrels down on south Florida as predicted.

With Irma expected to make landfall over the weekend, one of the most immediate concerns for state officials is shoring up the Turkey Point nuclear facility, just south of Miami, and the St. Lucie power plant, north of West Palm Beach. Turkey Point and St. Lucie are the state’s only active nuclear power plants.

Officials stressed that there’s little danger to the public no matter how vicious Irma turns out to be.

“Those two structures are among the strongest in America, arguably in the world … We have made improvements post-Japan, post-Fukushima, learning from those lessons to make sure the plants have been even further strengthened,” Rob Gould, chief communications officer for Florida Power and Light, told reporters Thursday. “We will safely shut down these nuclear plants well in advance of hurricane-force winds. We finalized plans for that shutdown and we’ll adjust them as necessary depending on the path of the storm and the track of the storm.”

Despite the best preparations, Mr. Gould said there are likely to be widespread power outages across the state as the Category 5 hurricane, which may turn out to be the strongest storm to the hit the continental U.S. in recent history, comes ashore.

Local leaders are urging many Floridians to evacuate.

“This is a nuclear hurricane,” said Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Meanwhile, the federal government also is taking steps to prepare for the storm and to mitigate some of its impacts, including the potential for short-term spikes in gas prices along the East Coast as supplies run low.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday approved emergency fuel waivers for 38 states and Washington D.C., loosening standards for low-volatility gasoline and allowing E15 fuel — gasoline with 15 percent ethanol — to be sold. The steps are designed to get more fuel to market quickly and prevent the sort of gas shortages that already have hit south Florida as millions hit the road to evacuate.

The agency said Thursday’s step is both in preparation for Irma and also a response to Hurricane Harvey, which crippled much of the Gulf Coast’s oil production and refining capacity, some of which has yet to recover.

“As a result of the continuing impacts on Gulf Coast-area refineries and disruption to the fuel distribution system caused by Hurricane Harvey and the effects of large-scale evacuations in response to Hurricane Irma, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt today exercised EPA’s emergency fuel waiver authority to help ensure an adequate supply of fuel throughout the country,” the EPA said in a statement.

The EPA also said it is monitoring nearly two dozen Superfund sites in South Florida, and regional agency officials will work to ensure “that no contaminants migrate off-site” and threaten local water supplies.

Unlike Harvey, which struck one of the richest oil and gas regions and the hub of the nation’s refining capabilities, Irma shouldn’t prove to be much of a disruption to energy production.

Still, fuel shortages in Florida and elsewhere could worsen in the coming days. Florida’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper reported lengthy lines at gas stations across south Florida over the past several days, and state travel analysts told local media outlets that average gas prices, which already have risen from $2.48 to $2.72 per gallon over just the past week, could climb further.

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