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Robert Trigaux

Raleigh editorial skewers Progress Energy's fumbles with multiple nuclear plants




Progess Energy's Brunswick nuclear plant, which is located near Southport, N.C., had to shut down on Nov. 16. Why? Read on... 

Wake up and good morning. The Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer newspaper in the (for the moment) hometown of Progress Energy seems to have had a key if belated epiphany over the weak oversight by the power company (which includes Progress Energy Florida) of its multiple nuclear power plants in Florida (one) and the Carolinas (several).

The News & Observer published an editorial this past weekend critical of Progress Energy's recent history of fumbles with various nuclear plants it oversees. A quick rundown follows below from that editorial headlined Tighten Up. But here is the latest clincher. Progress Energy's Brunswick nuclear plant, which is located near Southport, N.C., had to shut down on Nov. 16 because of a coolant leak from a pressurized vessel that produces steam. Mildly radioactive water flowed out of the chamber rather than boiling inside, the editorial explains.

Why? Regulators at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that an inadequately trained maintenance personnel had failed to properly tighten nuts or bolts on a vessel that's supposed to handle 13,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. The vessel instead could take only 1,300 psi.

States the editorial: "Got that? Those investigating the leak were able to turn some of the nuts on a reactor pressure vessel by hand. That's not tight enough for a tire change."

The editorial also notes other stumbles by Progress Energy's nuclear oversight, some of which you will be more familiar:

The Crystal River 3 plant in Citrus County north of Tampa Bay, Progress Energy's only nuke plant in Florida, has been shut down since the fall of 2009 due to botched repairs on its containment vessel that has suffered multiple cracks. The company's now trying to decide whether it's even worth fixing the aging plant -- repair price tag around $2.5 billion -- and whether Progress Energy will bear any direct legal responsibility for a do-it-yourself repair that did not go well.

* Progress Energy's H.B. Robinson plant near Hartsville, S.C., "ranks among the three worst performing nuclear plants in the nation" due to shutdowns caused by small fires and malfunctions.

A dubious track record at best. It's one thing to run a lawn mower repair business with a weak repair history. It's quite another to run multiple nuclear power plants -- some of them, by the way, that Progress Energy is petitioning to extend their operational life 20 additional years beyond their standard 40-year lifespans.

Hey, I'm delighted the News & Observer poked Progress Energy on such crucial matters. The bad news fro Raleigh is Duke Energy is trying to buy Progress Energy. That means (if that deal happens) Progress Energy will be absorbed into Duke in a different headquarters town -- Charlotte, N.C. Raleigh can then only complain from afar. We know all about that in Florida.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times




[Last modified: Monday, February 6, 2012 10:25am]


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