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Robert Trigaux

Dry cask storage of spent nuclear fuel: Coming at FPL, Progress Energy Florida



Progressenergycrystalrivertimes Wake up and good morning.

What to do with spent nuclear fuel used in power plants to generate electricity is back in the Florida spotlight. This St. Petersburg Times photo is of Progress Energy's Crystal River energy complex in Citrus County where it operates a nuclear power plant. It's the small dome in the center of the photo. More on this in a moment.

According to the Miami Herald, South Florida's Florida Power & Light is quietly seeking a zoning change to allow six acres of its Turkey Point site to be used for new above-ground storage casks. The action comes after more than two million pounds of nuclear waste has piled up in South Dade over 35 years. The Herald reports that environmentalists have known for a long time FPL planned to use casks but they knew little, if anything, about the need for a zoning change, which generally allows for public discussion that could lead to modifications of the utility's plans.

When nuclear power plants are built, they come with what is essentially a swimming pool that becomes an underwater holding tank for spent nuclear fuel from the plant. The pools can hold decades worth of spent fuel, but they were built assuming the federal government would eventually offer a central repository for spent nuclear fuel. That has yet to happen and some of the swimming pools are getting full.

The next step? Storage casks full of spent nuclear fuel that would be maintained on-site at nuclear power plants, essentially sitting in designated parking lots awaiting disposition some time in the future.

The Herald story says that for more than 30 years, FPL has stored the Turkey Point (near Miami) waste in stainless steel-lined covered concrete pools. Those pools will be filled in the next two years and FPL plans to switch to dry-cask storage in silo-shaped structures six feet wide and 16 feet tall, consisting of ''stainless steel containers secured inside concrete modules,'' two to four feet thick.

Around the country, dry casks have been used for more than 20 years at 55 sites.The casks are designed to meet all Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements including hurricanes, storm surges and other flooding.

When I toured the Crystal River nuclear plant, we visited the swimming pool containing spent nuclear fuel. No surprise, the tour chiefs were extremely careful that nothing loose -- a pen in a pocket, an ID badge, etc -- end up in the pool. So they duct taped anything loose to me.

I mention all this for two reasons. Progress Energy Florida, based in St. Petersburg and a unit of Progress Energy in Raleigh, N.C., wants to build a new nuclear power plant in Levy County. And that, of course, means more spent nuclear fuel accumulating in Florida while the feds fiddle about what to do with all the nuclear power industry's radioactive refuse.

And FPL is not alone in Florida with plans to use dry casks to store spent fuel. Progress Energy anticipates it will fill up its Crystal River pool and will need to shift to dry casks in about three years: around 2012.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:25am]


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