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No sale, says Florida Power

With pink slips flying and more cutbacks possible, rumors abound at Florida Power Corp.'s nuclear plant. Thursday, one had a shareholder and stockbrokers demanding answers.

Louis D. Putney, a Tampa lawyer and longtime critic of Florida Power, filed a resolution this week demanding that the company promise never to sell its 860-megawatt nuclear plant.

That demand came about after Putney, a shareholder, said he received a call from a plant worker who told him of recent visits to the plant by two Southeastern nuclear utilities, Atlanta-based Southern Co. and Charlotte-based Duke Power Co.

The worker told Putney that Florida Power was looking to sell Crystal River Unit 3.

"I'm convinced something is going on," said Putney, who declined to identify the worker or other sources of his information. "There is cause for concern."

Officials from Florida Power and both utilities responded in chorus Thursday:

"It's not true," said Florida Power spokesman Will Rodgers.

"That's not true," said Southern Co. spokesman David Mould.

"Absolutely not true," said Duke Power spokeswoman Guynn Savage.

Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the staid government body that oversees operations of the nation's nuclear plants, joined in.

"To my knowledge, Florida Power has not applied for a transfer of anything," said Ken Clark, a spokesman for the agency, which would have to approve any request to transfer a nuclear license from one utility to another.

Despite the ringing denials, all three companies said they received calls on the matter all day long.

The rumor gained so much steam that Florida Power posted a memo to the contrary and Mould said he kept an eye on his company's stocks.

"We've been getting calls from brokers and newspapers all day," he said.

Rodgers said the flurry of activity was understandable.

"With all the changes we've been going through, all sorts of rumors have been flying around," he said. The company recently announced 350 more layoffs and said further cutbacks were possible.

But Putney defended his resolution, which he vowed to bring up at the April annual shareholders of Florida Progress, Florida Power's parent company. "The discussion should start immediately if Florida Power is in fact attempting to sell the plant," Putney said.

His biggest concern, he said, is safety. "Florida Power, by virtue of the plant being in their own back yard, has much greater incentive to see that plant operated safely."

Although no utility has ever attempted to sell its nuclear plant to another utility, Clark said the rumors were at least plausible.

The name of Duke Power Co. probably came up because its reactors are of the same design as the Babcock & Wilcox reactor at the Crystal River site.

And Clark said Southern Co. may have been mentioned because of its recent attempts to consolidate operations of its three reactors.

The Southern Co., a massive $8.6-billion utility supplying power to four states, including Florida, recently formed Southern Nuclear Operating Co. to run three reactors operated by its subsidiaries, Alabama Power Co. and Georgia Power Co.

Nevertheless, spokesman Mould said, the company had no interest in running a nuclear plant outside its own holdings.

"It's just a rumor," he said.

Putney's resolution also called for closure of the plant pending resolution of concerns over the effectiveness of Thermo-Lag, a fire barrier deemed ineffective by the NRC and used at the Crystal River plant to protect vital safety systems.