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Crystal River: End Days of Nuclear Energy?

Crystal River
When you hear that a nuclear power facility is closing, you may wonder if the end is nigh and all other facilities will close willy-nilly in rapid succession. Well, it could happen, just as anything could happen, but it seems far more likely that other factors play a role and are unique to the plant itself.
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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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!


seth said…
Duke will soon live to regret that decision as natural gas prices now $3.mcf or 30% the cost of production sustained by Big Oil dumping, rises to its cover its cost. As well, once numerous LNG export plants begin operation prices will rise to international levels of $18/mcf. In the last cold snap NYC prices hit $30/mcf - highest ever.

Then again maybe not as the gas price increases are automatically passed on to ratepayers. Most assurendly if Duke had to agree to cover all future gas price increases as part of its new nuclear to gas strategy there would be no nuclear to gas strategy.

Here's the experts at Forbes on the subject.

SteveK9 said…
I think Progress is in the running for one of the dumbest corporate decisions of all time. And, I don't mean closing the plant. They decided they could save some money (I think it was $15M versus $25M or something like that), by hiring an outside engineering firm with no experience to do the steam generator replacement, instead of one of the three companies that had done this dozens of times with no slip-ups. So, now they have lost an asset worth at least a billion probably more.
Atomikrabbit said…
"That’s a lot of years, in which many decisions will be made down in Florida."

And elsewhere.

The only thing broken at CR3 is the containment, designed to withstand the design basis pressures of a PWR LOCA. The secondary plant/turbine generator is perfectly intact, and if properly preserved could be coupled with a reactor design not requiring a high pressure containment such as a LMFBR or LFTR.

As you say, a lot can happen in 60 years. It's a crying shame to see such valuable infrastructure scrapped because of the poor judgement of one or two corporate execs.
Anonymous said…
Where are the investors queueing up to build LMFBRs and LFTRs? anyone? anyone?
Anonymous said…
No matter how we spin it, this is very bad news. Remember that this is the second one to bite the dust in the last few months (Kewaunee being the other). I am waiting for the other shoe to drop on SONGS. I am beginning to be somewhat pessimistic about the future of the industry. I was always told that nuclear had the advantage when it came to reliability and economics. If so, evidently not enough to save KNPP and CR3. If we can't keep existing plants running, how will anyone be motivated to risk any new build? I know CR3 had problems, but I don't understand why the industry could not step up to the plate and take on this challenge in a way that engaged good engineering and sound economics. If we don't meet these kind of challenges, there is less chance we will be able to compete with NG or even "clean coal".
Engineer-Poet said…
"Where are the investors queueing up to build LMFBRs and LFTRs? anyone? anyone?"

GE is in negotiations with Britain to build a pair of S-PRISMs to deal with the plutonium stockpile at Sellafield, and they're willing to self-finance.
Anonymous said…
"In negotiations" might be stretching it a bit. GE's fast reactor design has been pitched for this mission, but so have a number of others.

Any indications the UK government is leaning towards going with the GE design?
Anonymous said…
I really wish "the nuclear industry" (vendors, utilities, plant owners, trade groups, whoever and whatever) would step up to the plate and use this as an opportunity to pull together and work together to solve this problem and prove that this technology is salvagable and viable. How to do that? How about a company, a consortium really, funded by a cooperative effort among all the parties noted above, who would make Progess an offer to buy the plant (since Progress obviously doesn't want it as a generating asset), then fund a repair program using the best-qualified contractors to do the job right. We've got a plant here with a renewed license (or one pending, I don't remember), new equipment in place, power uprate approved (or in progress), a good technical staff onsite, and a growing market for power demand. Once the repair was done and the plant running and producing revenues, have the partners share in the profits. I really think it is time for "the industry" (whatever that is) to take some risks and show some commitment to this technology, if they really believe it has a future. If we keep letting these existing plants (CR3, Kewaunee, Zion, Maine Yankee et al.) that are perfectly operable or repairable keep going down the drain, who is ever going to want to risk treasure and reputation to back the business?
Gunter said…
Howdy folks,

UBS Financial Services is forecasting that Entergy is likely to cloae Vermont Yankee and FitzPatrick this year as well.

And then there is Kewaunee that is closing 2Q 2012.

More surprises likely.
Gunter said…

Salt to wounds...
Anonymous said…
Hello, Buckaroos,

See, this is as good a reason as any why "the nuclear industry" should pull together and find a way to make a go of it with these operations. We've faced these kinds of challenges before and made it work. In the 1980s the anti-nuke kooks were saying that nuclear plants would never be economical because of the extended outage times. We worked hard and found a solution to that. Same deal with fuel costs. We developed GCEP to reduce the costs related to GDP. It will be worth it to save CR3 and KNPP if for no other reason than to throw a few "I told you so"s back in their ugly faces.

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