Make us your home page
Instagram

Many warnings along the path to a broken Crystal River nuclear plant

Progress Energy can't say it wasn't warned. The company was told that its strategies were flawed at nearly every step in its effort to replace old steam generators at the Crystal River nuclear plant. Progress insists that no one could have predicted or prevented the problems — mainly the cracking of the containment building that houses the nuclear reactor and the steam generators. The St. Petersburg Times' ongoing investigation, based largely on documents from Progress, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and state agencies, has detailed multiple warnings prior to the utility's critical decisions. Ivan Penn, Times Staff Writer

The first warning

Progress' own internal study said that the company needed to hire an experienced general contractor to manage the project.

After accepting bids from the two firms that had managed all of the other steam generator replacement projects in the country, Progress decided to manage the project itself, hoping to save as much as $27.9 million.

A subsequent Progress analysis listed 25 threats and weaknesses, which the company later decided it could overcome.

The second warning

In March 2009, six months before Progress started the upgrade, contractors who had worked on similar projects warned the utility that its procedure for cutting into the containment building to gain access to the steam generators was different from all similar projects nationwide.

For instance, on March 9, 2009, Charles Hovey, an experienced construction foreman who had worked on similar projects at other nuclear plants, wrote an email that said: "I have never heard of it being done like this before and I just want to express my concerns to you one last time."

Progress did not change its procedure and the concrete nuclear reactor containment building cracked.

The third warning

In December 2009, two months after workers found the crack in the reactor building, Thomas Saporito of Jupiter filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission opposing Progress' repair plan. Saporito is a nuclear plant instrument control technician and safety whistle-blower who has worked at Crystal River.

In a January 2010 NRC public meeting, Saporito said the utility's plan to "patch" the wall with the crack would lead to more cracks. He suggested that Progress remove concrete all around the building to ensure there were no other cracks and to prevent future ones.

Progress stuck with its own approach. The building cracked a second time in March of this year and a third time in July.

The fourth warning:

Progress's current plan calls for replacing and strengthening all of the six concrete panels that make up the walls of the building (one already was replaced during the first repair).

Nuclear plant experts, including nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen and Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, say Progress needs to tear down the building and build a new one. Otherwise, Progress "will chase cracks for years."

Progress says it believes its plan is the best course of action.

Many warnings along the path to a broken Crystal River nuclear plant 12/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 10, 2011 7:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  2. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood

    Business

    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  3. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa

    Business

    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  4. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  5. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags

    Autos

    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]