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Judge awards Duke Energy $21 million in nuclear fuel storage case

Times file

A federal judge has awarded $21 million in damages to Duke Energy after the U.S. Department of Energy broke its agreement to store spent fuel from the Crystal River nuclear facility and other plants.

The damages for the shuttered Crystal River plant were part of a $104 million award Duke won related to claims on four of its nuclear facilities — three in the Carolinas and its lone reactor in Florida.

Judge Thomas C. Wheeler of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims said Monday that he issued the award for damages in part because Duke would not have had to develop permanent storage at the Crystal River power complex in Citrus County if the federal government had moved forward with a national site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

"At trial, plaintiffs demonstrated that (Duke) would not have built a dry storage facility if DOE had performed because of the difficulties of building dry storage at Crystal River," Wheeler wrote in his 15-page opinion.

Wheeler said dry storage at Crystal River requires a significant amount of state environmental permitting and soil protection. The Crystal River power complex is small and the space includes four coal-fired units that surround the nuclear plant, he noted.

Duke announced the permanent closure of the Crystal River nuclear plant last year, after the utility decided not to repair the facility that sustained damages during upgrade and repair projects that began in 2009. The four coal units continue to operate.

The utility plans to store spent fuel on the site in cylinder casks of steel and concrete. The company said unused fuel will likely be sold to other Duke units, with the money going back to the utility's 1.7 million Florida customers.

The $21 million award will help reduce costs that customers would have to bear in construction of the spent fuel storage casks. About $3 million of the award will go to the minority owners of the Crystal River plant.

The Department of Energy has 60 days to appeal.

Duke spokeswoman Heather Danenhower said the company was pleased with the ruling. But she warned customers will continue to pay for fuel storage costs until the Department of Energy "moves forward with its legal obligation to accept used nuclear fuel. … Utilities will continue to seek recovery of these costs from the federal government."

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

Judge awards Duke Energy $21 million in nuclear fuel storage case 03/11/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 9:18pm]

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