(ran North edition of Pasco Times)
Progress Energy officials are considering constructing another nuclear power plant at the Crystal River complex, a company vice president told county and city officials Friday.
With population numbers booming in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, the company needs to build at least one new "baseload power plant," an industry term used to describe a major plant that provides continuous electricity.
But officials are still trying to determine where that plant will be located and whether it will be nuclear or powered by fossil fuels, Progress Energy senior vice president and chief nuclear officer C.S. "Scotty" Hinnant said.
Progress Energy is performing "detailed studies on site locations," including Crystal River, he said. And it hopes to pick a site by the end of the year, he said.
Hinnant declined to specify how many sites are being considered or identify other sites on the list.
"Existing nuclear plant sites do have some desirable features," he said.
Local government officials present at the meeting said they were happy to hear that Progress Energy _ the county's largest taxpayer and its largest private sector employer _ might expand its Citrus County operations.
"I was delighted. . . . Progress Energy has been a great Citrus County presence," County Commission Chairwoman Vicki Phillips said after the meeting. "I knew that they were considering their options. Up until today, I don't know that they had ever been specific enough to say that Citrus County was one of the areas being considered."
Crystal River Mayor Ron Kitchen said that if the company decides to build another nuclear plant, the current site outside the city limits would be the perfect spot.
"Progress Energy has been a great neighbor," he said.
In addition to the nuclear power plant, the Crystal River complex also includes four steam plants that burn coal.
The Crystal River nuclear power plant, which began operations in 1977, is one of five nuclear reactors at three sites in the state. Its license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission expires in 2016, but Progress Energy officials said Friday that they plan to apply to renew the license at least until 2036. In addition to the Crystal River plant, Progress Energy operates two nuclear plants in North Carolina and one in South Carolina.
Progress Energy vice president Dale Young, who oversees the Crystal River nuclear plant, said the plant generated more electricity last year than it had ever generated in a single year. The plant has 650 full-time employees and generated more than 7.303-billion kilowatt hours of electricity with the lowest fuel cost of any plant in the Progress Energy Florida system _ enough electricity to power 425,000 typical Florida homes, he said.
About two dozen local government officials _ including representatives from Citrus County, Inverness, Crystal River and Dunnellon _ attended Friday's briefing with Progress Energy officials at the nuclear training center in Crystal River.
The meeting also included a review of new security procedures implemented at the nuclear plant after Sept. 11.
In the past, people who wanted to visit the site faced few restrictions.
"Those days are over," said John Stephenson, who coordinates emergency management at the plant.
He said Progress Energy has enhanced the nuclear plant's security systems, including closed circuit cameras, vehicle barriers and searches, personnel screenings and site patrols.
In terms of handling natural disasters, Stephenson said, the plant is designed to withstand the worst hurricanes and tornadoes. But he said that in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Progress Energy is looking into better ensuring the safety of employees and their families.
"That's what we need to improve," he said.
After nearly two hours of presentations from Progress Energy brass, the local government officials had the opportunity to watch a demonstration of the nuclear plant's $10-million training simulator and take a bus tour of the plant itself.
Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichetsptimes.com or 860-7309. Times researchers Caryn Baird and Mary Mellstrom contributed to this report.
CRYSTAL RIVER NUCLEAR PLANT
+ Began operation March 13, 1977, 51 months late at a final cost of $375-million _ plus $29-million for its first load of nuclear fuel.
Built by Babcock & Wilcox, a New Jersey engineering company, for Florida Power Corp.
+ The experience prompted Florida Power to abandon plans for three more nuclear units: one at Crystal River and two to be known as Big Orange in Orange County, near Orlando.
+ Instead, the utility built two more coal-burning plants at Crystal River. There are now five plants at the site, four of them coal-burning.
Source: Times files.