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Fasano wants Progress to explain botched nuclear plant job

State Sen. Mike Fasano wants Progress Energy to explain to lawmakers and the public what went wrong at the broken Crystal River nuclear plant.

Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said that with customers potentially on the hook for $670 million in repairs to the plant, the public has a right to understand what caused the utility's nuclear plant to break.

If the plant can be repaired, it is expected to cost more than $2.5 billion to repair, making it one of the costliest nuclear incidents in U.S. history.

"I have asked the chairman of the utilities committee to have Progress Energy come before the committee to answer questions, to answer a lot of questions," said Fasano, who is a member of the utilities committee. "I also think it's time for the governor to speak up."

Fasano said the Senate utilities committee chairman, Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he would consider holding a hearing but was noncommittal. Gardiner is also the majority leader of the Senate.

Allison Aubuchon, a spokeswoman for Gardiner, said Fasano's request is being considered. Gardiner is looking at the possibility of having Progress make a presentation between now and the legislative session in the spring, she said.

"It's something that he will take under advisement," Aubuchon said. "The cost of energy is important to the leader."

Fasano's call for hearings follows reports in the St. Petersburg Times about Progress' botched maintenance and upgrade project at the Crystal River nuclear plant, known as CR3. The utility was replacing old steam generators at the plant.

In its reports, the Times showed how Progress decided to become the first utility in the nation to manage the steam generator replacement project itself.

Progress then hired two companies that had never previously performed the complex work required for the project.

In addition, the utility used a procedure that was different from that used at all of the 34 other steam generator replacement projects. All of them were successful.

During the project, the concrete nuclear reactor building cracked, a problem that had never happened at any other nuclear plant in the country. After workers repaired the first crack and were set to bring the plant back online, the building cracked again.

The plant has been offline for two years and is expected to remain out of service for at least two more.

The state Public Service Commission is reviewing how much if any of the charges related to the repair can be passed onto consumers.

Progress' insurer is reviewing whether the botched project is covered under the utility's insurance policy.

At the same time, Progress also is charging its 1.6 million Florida customers in advance for the proposed construction of another nuclear plant in Levy County. The two-reactor Levy County plant is expected to cost $20 billion.

Fasano said the utility needs to address the public about all of the problems with Crystal River and what is happening with Levy County before continuing to bill customers.

"All of that should be shut down and put on hold," Fasano said.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

Fasano wants Progress to explain botched nuclear plant job 11/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 10:03pm]
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