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Duke Energy Florida asks to speed up Crystal River nuclear decommissioning

CRYSTAL RIVER — Duke Energy Florida will ask regulators for permission to speed up its Crystal River nuclear plant decommissioning, the utility announced Thursday. Instead of being dismantled by 2074, the plant will now be fully decommissioned by 2027. It has not produced power since 2009.

The primary driver for the shorter timetable was cost, said Duke spokeswoman Heather Danenhower. When the shutdown was announced in 2013, decommissioning was too costly to do quickly. But the utility finalized a contract with Accelerated Decommissioning Partners on Wednesday, locking the cost of the entire process in at $540 million. That will be covered by Duke's $717 million decommissioning trust for the plant, which was funded by ratepayers between 1977 and 2001.

Customers will not see an increase on their monthly bills for the process.

"It gives us a crystal ball into the future of the nuclear plant decommission," Danenhower said. "We know what that cost is today, and we are going to do the work in the next decade instead of waiting."

The plant was shut down because of a botched do-it-yourself repair by Duke's predecessor, Progress Energy, in which the utility cracked the 42-inch-thick concrete building where the reactor was housed.

Decommissioning the nuclear plant was originally thought to cost around $1.18 billion. Customers were not expected to shoulder that cost, but consumer advocates warned that the figure could go up during the decommissioning process as unexpected expenses cropped up.

The approval process, Danenhower said, is expected to take about a year. The plant itself will be torn down in 2026 or 2027, and the only thing that will remain is the portion of the plant housing the spent nuclear material, which is known as "dry cask storage." Under the agreement, it will be owned by Accelerated Decommissioning Partners and sent to the Department of Energy at a future date when there is a more permanent place for it. There currently isn't a central national repository for used nuclear fuel.

"Selling the dry cask storage assets allows Duke Energy to transfer all aspects of used fuel management, including operating and maintenance costs, to us," Scott State, CEO of Accelerated Decommissioning Partners, said in a release. "Owning the dry cask storage system assets closely aligns with our industry expertise and business strategy."

Duke, Danenhower said, expects to use the newly vacant area for other purposes after 2027, though it hasn't settled on what yet. It does not plan to sell the land.

Along with the nuclear plant being torn down, Duke will also dismantle two retired coal-powered generators at the site, which were put out of service at the end of 2018 when the utility's new natural gas plant came online. That process is expected to begin this year and finish by 2023.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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