Venture

Robert Trigaux

5 reasons Progress Energy's Crystal River nuclear power plant may not operate again

15

June

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Above: Warren Gill, nuclear operator, looks over panels in the control room Tuesday at the Crystal River nuclear plant. There currently is no fuel in the reactor of Progress Energy’s troubled plant, shut down since September 2009. Photo by Will Vragovic, St. Petersburg Times

Wake up and good morning. Let's follow up on yesterday's posting now that the Florida media has had its tour of Progress Energy's Crystal River nuclear power plant, the only one the North Carolina power company currently operates in Florida. Boil it all down and here's what we learned: Progress Energy may simply decide that the ongoing costs and financial risks of repairing and operating its Florida nuke plant may not be worth it. We don't know that but it's clearly one of the messages the company delivered during Tuesday's media tour of a troubled nuke plant that has been shut down and remains inoperable since September 2009. That's a very, very long time for a nuke plant not to be generating electricity for the company and its customers.

First, here some key coverage from those reporters who actually toured the plant Tuesday and got a first-hand look. Here's the St. Petersburg Times story. Here's the Tampa Tribune story. Here's a good TV report from WFTV out of Orlando. Every one of them prominently mentions the possibility of the plant closing.

Here are five good reasons we may have seen the last of "Crystal River 3" after nearly 30 years as an operating nuclear power plant:

5. Repair costs are skyrocketing: The company's already sunk half a billion dollars and counting into trying to fix the plant and buying high-priced electricity (the plant should have generated) from other electricity producers. At some point the bean counters will analyze this financial black hole and say enough.

4. Duke Energy's buying Progress Energy and will want closure: Larger Duke Energy may be as pro nuclear as Progress Energy but it did not get so big by coddling money-losing projects. Unless upcoming engineering reports on the possibility of repairing Crystal River are more positive than expected, Duke may tell Progress Energy to shut it down for good.

3. The pattern of repairs is troubling: Progress Energy had to cut a large hole in the nuke plant's containment building to replace some big equipment. That event may have compromised the containment building because a series of "delaminations" or gaps in the concrete structure since then have been detected. Now the company is not sure if other delaminations may occur if and when the company decides to once again "retension" the containment building. Is the integrity of the containment building now suspect? We'll have to wait on the engineering report. It is possible that report can't answer that concern.

2. Progress Energy wants to renew the Crystal River nuke plant's license and let it run for many more years: Is that likely to win federal regulatory approval given the plant's precarious status and its remaining shut down for so long? Come September 2011 -- that's less than three months -- the nuke plant will have been shut down for two years. If the feds nix a plant renewal license, Progress Energy may decide it's not worth fixing the plant for a handful of its remaining years of legal operation.

1. Replacing the electricity from the nuclear power plant with new power plants will take time: Hey, replacing the power generated by a nuke plant will take a long time. The likelihood is Progress Energy would decide to build multiple plants fueled by natural gas -- and not by nuclear or coal or oil or alternative energy sources like solar. Whatever the choice, building new plants takes a long time and Progress Energy will be pressured to fish or cut bait with the nuke plant soon in order to have time to start replacing all that lost nuke power with new power sources.

Tough, tough decisions. Alas, whatever the choice, it's going to cost Floridians.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 9:45am]

    

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