By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- Sitting on more than 1,000 acres on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County, the two reactors at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant have been serving county residents for more than 30 years. Now, after a months-long project to upgrade equipment, residents will have at least another 25 years of efficient energy production.
"We wanted to make sure we were able to get as much power as possible," said Jack Hoffman, the licensing manager for the power upgrade project.
Nuclear power is created when water is pumped through a nuclear reactor without being exposed to radiation. The heated water is converted to steam and that is then converted to electricity.
The project involved increasing the electricity output of the two nuclear reactors by replacing pipes, valves, pumps, heat exchangers, electrical transformers and generators.
It was done in conjunction with a similar project at the Turkey Point plant in south Florida, and cost approximately $1 billion.
Florida Power & Light brought in about 4,000 additional contractors to help with the project, which took about three years to complete.
"The materials are more efficient," Mr. Hoffman said. "Just getting the equipment here and moving it into place was a monumental feat."
The company transported some materials to the plant in the middle of the night, when traffic was decreased, using large trucks with numerous wheels to be able to maneuver around roundabouts and smaller corners. They also used barges to bring large items to the plant by water.
In addition, more than 4,000 additional contractors were brought in to help with the project.
"The majority of the contractors were temporary craft workers, including welders, carpenters and electricians," said Doug Andrews, the site communication supervisor.
The updates for unit 1 were completed in July and the update for unit 2 is expected to be completed shortly.
The upgrades were made during planned outages at the plant. The plant shuts down the reactors on a scheduled basis in order to upgrade equipment and make repairs. This upgrade, however, involved replacing some of the original components of the plant.
"This will allow us to generate more power safely," Mr. Andrews said. "So we will be able to increase the power output without increasing the size of the plant."
Upgrades for both of the units will provide an additional 300 megawatts to the total output, to bring the overall output of the plant to more than 1,000 megawatts. That means the plant can safely supply power to an additional 150,000 homes.
It is also expected to reduce annual fossil fuel costs by approximately $3 billion over the life of the upgrades.