Scuba diver sucked into St. Lucie nuclear power plant intake suing FP&L

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St. Lucie nuclear power plant

On July 12th, 2015, Christopher Le Cun, a scuba diver and resident of South Florida, was boating, swimming and scuba diving with friends and family near the St. Lucie nuclear power plant.

While swimming, Le Cun and his friend Robert Blake found three massive barnacle-covered structures underneath the surface that were visible from the above of the water.  There was a buoy in the water, seemingly marking the shallow water for passing boats.  Since there were no obvious warnings posted the diving friends swam underwater to investigate the odd finding.

“I swam right up to this big structure and it looks like a building underwater. I felt a little bit of current. All of a sudden It got a little quicker and I said this ain’t right, this ain’t right,” said Le Cun.

St Lucie Nuclear Power Plant

The St. Lucie nuclear power plant gets cooling water from a canal system that is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by three underwater intake pipes.  There is no grating over the mouth of the intake pipe and the force of 500,000 gallons of water per second rushing into the pipes pulled Le Cun into the intake in front of his friend.

Robert Blake, the second diver that day, thought he had watched his friend die in front of him.  He quickly turned around and raced to the surface where he yelled at Le Cun’s wife in the boat.  Le Cun’s wife called 911 and began trying to explain what had happened to her husband.

Deep underwater, Le Cun was tumbling through the intake pipe at a rate of nearly 7 feet per second – which is 16 feet across and nearly a quarter-mile long.  As the water travels through the pipe it gets more turbulent.

Scuba diving can be very dangerous if the diver loses control of their depth, air supply, movement and other critical factors while they are underwater – but the force of the water was compounding Le Cun’s fears.

“All I could think about was these horror movies you know, this big turbine coming and I’m coming for it. You know, it’s going to chop me up and kill me” Le Cun would later tell reporters, “I contemplated, you know, do I just pull the regulator out of my mouth and just die. I started thinking about my family, you know, how are they going to survive without me.”

St Lucie Nuclear Power Plant Water Intake

St Lucie nuclear power plant intake

As Le Cun travelled through the pipes he finally saw a faint glimmer of light that got larger and brighter the closer he approached.  He was finally deposited in the intake channel at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant that is used to condense the steam for the turbine, where he quickly flagged down a worker. The worker was astonished and mystified as to how this diver had ended up in the reservoir.

The first thought Le Cun had was to notify his family that he was ok.  He borrowed one of the plant worker’s phones and called his wife until she picked up.

Le cun has filed a lawsuit against Florida Power and Light, the utility that operates the nuclear power plant.

A statement from Florida Power and Light, the operator of the St. Lucie nuclear power plant said, “Nothing is more important safety at our St. Lucie nuclear power plants, which is a reason that we have a protective over the intake piping. The diver intentionally swam into one of the intake pipes after bypassing a piece of equipment to minimize the entry of objects.”

This is not the first time that a diver has been sucked into the intake at St. Lucie.

In 1989, William Lamm was scuba diving and spearfishing near the water intake, when he too was sucked in.  “It was darker than any dark I’ve ever seen, and I tried to hold my arms in front of me for balance, but I tumbled and bounced all over the sides of the pipe.”

It took nearly four minutes before Lamm was deposited in a canal at St. Lucie, where he was found by a security guard that saw him surface.

Lamm reported that the force of the water was so strong that it pulled off his mask and diving gloves and even ripped out his mouthpiece several times, threatening to drown him in the fast-moving flow of water.

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6 Comments

  1. I hope there was more to FP&L’s response, because throwing accusations and blame at the driver doesn’t demonstrate the ownership and accountability that are so vital to safe operation of a nuclear power plant.

  2. This was interesting though (from CNN):

    “There is an eight-foot buoy floating at the point of the intake piping, which has been in place since the plant opened, and states that people should stay 100 feet away. There are three intake pipes, which extend for a quarter mile along the floor of the ocean, and the one that the diver swam into is 16 feet in diameter with a protective cap.”

    Le Cun said he did see some sort of cap but “that thing is not designed to keep anybody or anything out.”

    So what sort of “cap” was it ?

    /K

    1. A lawyer once told me that if an owner erects a fence around a cooling pond, and the public cuts the fence to go fishing, it becomes an “attractive hazard”. If the owner wants a chance at winning the lawsuit when a kid crawls thru the fence and drowns in the pond, then they have to repair the fence over and over and over again. I could speculate that a misplaced grating with barnacles all over it would present an attractive hazard to a diver. I could also speculate that a diver might not be able to read a sign covered with barnacles. One thing that isn’t speculation is that the diver defeated the barriers, so what’s the owner going to do to prevent that from happening again? Blaming the diver is as effective as blaming the kid.

      1. @Brenda: Your reasoning makes sort of sense (from a juruducal perspective in the US at least).

        Although there may be some important details:
        If the fence were to be cut open – how long would the owner have to repair it ? What if a Kid snuck in after an hour or so, days, weeks ? :)

        Here i Europe we would have a somewhat different approach I think.

        Here the caretaker has the responsibility to look after their children, and the owner has to take “adequate” measures.
        Thus leaving a broken fence, or if signs were stolen etc for a longer period would not do, and they could be fined, although they would probably not have to pay too much in damages to the kid/family at least no sums near what you can see in the US.

        But for an adult it would be a different story- if there were clear signs (e.g. a bouy), and even a broken fence (not to mention a large industrial complex within a couple of 100m and not much else) – you would expect the person to be aware that there might be dangers and take precautions. Swimming down to an “interesting looking hole, with some sort of cap on the bottom of the ocean” near a löarge powerplant, without consulting any charts/maps etc really is a case of “suit yourself”, right ?
        /K

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