Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Nuclear Regulatory Commission okays license to Duke Energy for mothballed Levy nuclear power plant

A decade after deciding to build new nuclear power plants in Levy County and three years after abandoning the project, Duke Energy has been issued operating licenses for the mothballed site from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

While Duke won't do anything with these licenses for now, the NRC approvals can be used for years into the future to restart the project if the economics of nuclear power once again make sense to Duke.

The NRC last week announced it had approved staff members issuing two "combined operating licenses" for the site near Inglis in Levy County.

The Levy location is just north of the Crystal River nuclear power plant in Citrus County that Duke decided to close down prematurely after a botched repair on the reactor vessel was deemed too expensive to fix.

The shuttered plant now faces a 60-year decommissioning process estimated to cost close to $1.2 billion. Its radioactive spent fuel rods will remain on site sealed in concrete casks until the company and federal government decide where to safely store them for the long term.

The shutdown of Crystal River and the 2013 decision not to pursue new Levy County nuclear plants mean Duke has no operating or proposed nuclear power plants in Florida. To make up for the electricity no longer generated by Crystal River, Duke is building a plant powered by natural gas in Citrus County. That plant is expected to cost $1.5 billion and start operating in 2018, receiving natural gas through a 500-mile pipeline built by Sabal Trail Transmission.

In addition, many of the advance costs associated with preparing the Levy County site by Duke Energy will be charged via higher rates to its 1.7 million Florida customers. Duke expects to be reimbursed more than $1 billion for preparing a site for a plant that may never be built.

That reimbursement is part of a state law approved in Tallahassee in 2006. Today the controversial law has again become a prominent issue in the current political campaigns of state Legislature candidates promising to try to repeal that rule.

Duke announced last month it plans to raise its electricity rate to more than $116 per 1,000 kilowatt hours starting in 2017. That rate is expected to be $11.47 higher than Tampa Electric's rates next year and $13.87 more than Florida Power & Light's rates for the same amount of electricity.

Barring a significant shift in energy economics, the U.S. nuclear power plant business seems to be fading — a victim of cheap natural gas prices and rising use of renewable solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

This week, the operators of a nuclear power plant near Omaha, Neb., decided the plant was too expensive to run and shut it down. The plant was licensed to operate until 2033.

The only remaining nuclear power plants in the state operate in South Florida and generate electricity for the customers of FPL.

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