Following a comprehensive analysis, Progress Energy Florida, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, announced today that it will retire the Crystal River Nuclear Plant (CR3) in Citrus County, Fla. The plant has been safely shut down and offline since late 2009.There’s no question this is not happy news. But Progress Energy Florida has been pretty straightforward about the whys and wherefores of it:
The company’s decision comes after a comprehensive, months-long engineering analysis of the damaged [Crystal River] containment structure. The nuclear unit, which began operating in 1977, had been shut down in the fall of 2009 for refueling and replacement of its steam generators when a delamination, or crack, occurred in the outer layer of the containment building’s concrete wall.Of course, it’s regrettable. The press release notes that Progress will build a new gas-fired plant and has four coal units in the same county as Crystal River. That’s not as good a carbon emissions profile as there was with Crystal River running, but that’s how it goes. The economics of energy currently favors natural gas facilities, which at least better than building a new coal facility.
The process of repairing the damage and restoring the unit to service resulted in additional delaminations in other sections of the containment structure in 2011.
During the ensuing months, Progress Energy – and, more recently, Duke Energy – evaluated the ability to successfully repair the unit, the risks associated with any repair and the repair scope as well as the likely costs and schedule.
A report completed in late 2012 confirmed that repairing the plant was a viable option but that the nature and potential scope of repairs brought increased risks that could raise the cost dramatically and extend the schedule.
And Crystal River will never reopen, right? Sometimes, to paraphrase Stephen King, they come back.
The company intends to use the SAFSTOR option for decommissioning. Generally, this involves placing the facility into a safe storage configuration, requiring limited staffing to monitor plant conditions, until the eventual dismantling and decontamination activities occur, usually in 40 to 60 years.That’s a lot of years, in which many decisions will be made down in Florida. Admittedly, it is more likely that a uncompleted reactor, such as TVA’s Bellefonte in Alabama, will be revived for completion than that Crystal River will be fully repaired and switched back on. But the future holds surprises, as it always has, and it doesn’t hurt to have alternative energy options at the ready.
But, what we know for sure:
Crystal River is closing, the reasons are easy to grasp, and they are unique to the plant. Even San Onofre, which has also been closed for technical reasons (steam generator problems there), is quite different in specifics and probable outcome. So – unfortunate, yes; a dire pox upon the industry, not so much.
PS: this post is based on Duke’s own press release, which we tend to avoid here (this one had some corp-speak in it, not a lot), but boy, has the Florida press been having fun with this news – and not very responsibly, I must say.
For example, here is the Tampa Bay Times’ view of Crystal River prior to the announcement of its closing:
It's time for Duke Energy to acknowledge that the broken Crystal River nuclear plant is not worth fixing and announce plans to permanently shut it down.With Duke/Progress having decided to do this, the response from the newspaper?
On Tuesday came the announcement that [Crystal River] will never reopen.I won’t go into the specifics offered here except to say they seem grossly oversimplified – there will be some insurance consideration here. I think we can let the finger pointing – Duke can take care of itself – remain a local issue. You really can’t win for losing in Tampa Bay, though. Yeesh!
The 1.6 million customers the plant once served will pay dearly for their utility's mistake, maybe $3 billion when the cost of building a new power plant is included. So will Citrus County and the city of Crystal River. Those governments, and their local economies, will take a thumping. Some of the 600 workers at the plant may lose their jobs.