As Progress Energy commits to spend up to $1.3 billion to fix nuclear plant, concerns rise on nearby population density
Above: Spent fuel rods at Progress Energy's Crystal River nuclear plant are arranged in a grid under about 30 feet of water. Photo: Will Vragovic, St. Petersburg Times 2011
Wake up and good morning. In the same week that Progress Energy says it will spend $900,000 more (read company's statement or the St. Petersburg Times story) or so to try and fix its aging nuclear power plant in Citrus County north of Tampa Bay, the AP offers an in-depth piece that says the once rural areas surrounding many nuclear power plants are not filled with a lot more people than expected. Bottom line? The nuclear power industry and its regulators are behind in assessing the real risks to a much more populated geography surrounding many of our nuke plants.
Says the AP: "As America's nuclear power plants have aged, the once-rural areas around them have become far more crowded and much more difficult to evacuate. Yet government and industry have paid little heed, even as plants are running at higher power and posing more danger in the event of an accident, an Associated Press investigation has found." Read the AP story here.
The story specifically points out the Crystal River 3 nuclear power plant in Crystal River because the original 1973 assessment (when the plant began operation) assumed that the surrounding area would remain sparsely populated. Says the AP investigation: "Federal regulators predicted in 1973 that the 50-mile population around the Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida would expand from 155,900 to only 381,000 by 2020. 'The basic rural character of the area is not expected to change in the coming 40 years,'the government predicted.
"Yet the plant was built in Citrus County on the state's picture-postcard west coast, 70 miles north of Tampa. And by 2010 -- 10 years ahead of the predicted timetable -- the population had already multiplied by six, to over 1 million."
The population issue here is compelling because of the aftermath of the nuclear power plant radiation problems in Japan. Should any event ever require a larger-scale emergency evacuation plan from around the Crystal River nuke plant -- beyond that 10-mile radius traditionally practiced in the area -- well, such an action is sketchy at best.
The issue bears discussion now that Progress Energy, as expected, this week formally said it will not close the troubled Crystal River nuclear power plant bu spend more money to try and fix delaminations or cracks (photo, above right, courtesy of Progress Energy) in its containment building. The power company presumably also wants to seeks an extension of the plant's operating license since repairs to the plant will keep it shut down until 2014 and the plant's original license expires in 2016.
All the more reason to reconsider the higher density population near the plant, especially as Citrus County will surely grow faster in the coming decades.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times