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A prudent path to Crystal River nuclear plant repairs

Some Florida legislators and their constituents have inquired about the status of Progress Energy Florida's Crystal River nuclear plant. Some are questioning our company's approach to the steam generator replacement project, while others are second-guessing our intended course of repair.

As some engage in these increasingly public debates, often unsupported by facts, we are carefully applying lessons learned from this unforeseeable, first-of-its-kind event in an effort to safely and efficiently restore our company's only Florida nuclear plant to service. Throughout the related regulatory proceedings, we will not be sidetracked by unsubstantiated claims, allegations and misinformation that can lead to media coverage lacking the full context of the issue.

The Crystal River nuclear plant is the only carbon-free generation option on our Florida system capable of producing power 24 hours a day. Every day the plant operates, our customers save nearly $1 million in fuel costs, leading to more than $300 million in annual fuel cost savings. The plant is also a significant part of Progress Energy's and Florida's plans to address climate change while ensuring that electricity remains safe, reliable and affordable for our 1.6 million customers.

The steam generator replacement project that began at the Crystal River nuclear plant in the fall of 2009 called for cutting a 23- by 27-foot hole in the 42-inch-thick, concrete containment building wall. Before beginning, we spent five years and more than 10,000 man hours developing a comprehensive plan in collaboration with nuclear and construction industry experts. After cutting into the concrete, workers discovered a delamination (or separation) within the wall. Independent analysis later determined that the delamination could have neither been predicted nor prevented. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, after months of inspection, agreed.

Over the roughly year and a half that followed, we worked with some of the world's foremost concrete and engineering experts to develop and perform a complicated repair. In March, while in the final stages of the repair, a different section of the containment building wall experienced similar delamination.

This summer, after reviewing the results of initial analyses, we announced our intention to safely restore the plant to service by systematically removing and replacing most of the concrete from the sections of the wall that weren't involved in the previous repair. Under this plan, the plant would return to service in 2014.

In the meantime, a three-phase hearing to address this issue before the Florida Public Service Commission began in October. We expect the first phase, which focuses on the circumstances leading up to the first delamination, to continue well into 2012. The other phases will follow.

Safely and efficiently restoring the Crystal River nuclear plant to service is extremely important to Progress Energy. After ensuring public safety, though, our greatest concern lies in doing the right thing for everyone who depends on us. Based on findings gleaned through intense collaboration with third-party experts, we believe that our intended repair plan is the best course of action for our customers, our communities and our company.

While some would have you believe that we took an inappropriate approach to this work, nothing could be further from the truth. Outside experts have been engaged since day one, and we will continue to rely on their expertise, as they will be deeply involved until the plant safely returns to service.

In fact, third parties recognized as experts in the field continue to validate our stance. Since the initial delamination occurred in 2009, Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited has reimbursed Progress Energy $298 million in replacement power and repair costs. We are seeking reimbursement of additional expenses associated with this work and will continue to make every effort to limit the impact of this extended outage on our customers.

While we remain committed to fully addressing the steam generator replacement and delamination issues through the ongoing PSC docket, it is appropriate for us to only respond to specific questions related to these matters in the appropriate regulatory arena. Under Florida's regulatory framework, state leaders, concerned citizens, the media and other interested parties can review all of the documents filed through this proceeding and offer comment for consideration by the PSC. Florida consumers — our customers — will have a seat at the table throughout this process, as well, through the involvement of the Office of Public Counsel.

This is a complex issue in a complex industry and not one that can be sufficiently addressed through the media or unconventional means. Those who follow these proceedings will see that we have been prudent in our actions and decisionmaking throughout this process.

Vincent M. Dolan is president and CEO of Progress Energy Florida.

A prudent path to Crystal River nuclear plant repairs 11/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 3:31am]

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