Cost to fix Crystal River nuclear plant could hit $3.43 billion, take eight years

Published Oct. 2, 2012

Fixing the botched repairs at the Crystal River nuclear plant north of Tampa Bay could cost nearly $3.5 billion and take eight years, in a worst-case scenario.

So says an independent review of repair options by Charlotte, N.C., consultant Zapata Inc. commissioned by Duke Energy during its recent merger with Progress Energy, which owns the Crystal River plant. In an SEC filing Monday, Progress Energy Florida said it supplied Zapata's report on the Crystal River plant to Florida regulators. The company maintains that no decision has been made on whether to fix Crystal River or to retire the unit.

Progress Energy took the Crystal River nuclear plant offline in fall 2009 for an upgrade and maintenance project. The project included replacing the plant's old steam generators.

As workers cut into the 42-inch-thick concrete containment wall to remove the old steam generators, the building cracked. As Progress attempted to repair the building and bring the reactor back online in March 2011, the containment wall cracked again. Workers eventually found a third crack.

The utility, now under Duke management, is reviewing a range of repair options and costs.

The Zapata review found that a repair plan developed by Progress that relies on outside engineering firm URS "appears to be technically feasible, but significant risks and technical issues" remain unresolved.

Zapata estimated the original repair plans at $1.49 billion, above Progress Energy's estimate of $900 million to $1.3 billion.

Zapata also offered three other repair scenarios for Crystal River involving progressively more extensive work on the containment vessel, each with higher estimated costs. They include one repair for $1.55 billion that takes 31 months, and another repair for $2.44 billion and 60 months.

A worst-case scenario that included eventual replacement of the plant's dome, along with the containment building walls, came in at $3.43 billion, with an eight-year time frame that would push any restart of the Crystal River plant to 2021 or later.

Progress had said the unit might return to service in 2014 if repaired. The new SEC filing suggests that time frame is optimistic.

"We will proceed with a repair option only if there is a high degree of confidence that the repair can be successfully completed and licensed within the final estimated costs and schedule, and is in the best interests of our customers, joint owners and investors," incoming Progress Energy Florida president Alex Glenn stated.

The 838-megawatt Crystal River reactor became an issue in the weeks before the merger with Duke Energy was completed in July and played a role in the surprise ouster of Bill Johnson, the Progress executive who had been slated to lead the merged companies.

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Duke chairman Jim Rogers, who is now also CEO, said the decision to repair or retire Crystal River may not be made before the end of 2012, as the utility had agreed to do in a settlement with Florida utility regulators earlier this year.