Progress Energy to Scrap Crystal River Nuclear Plant

The beleaguered Crystal River Nuclear Plant in Citrus County, Fla.—which has been in shutdown and offline since late 2009 due to damage to its containment building—is to be retired, Progress Energy Florida announced on Tuesday.

The Duke Energy subsidiary said it was "reviewing alternatives to replace the power produced by the unit, including the potential construction of a new, "state-of-the-art natural gas-fueled" plant. "The company is evaluating a number of potential sites for new plant capacity that may be needed in the future to meet Florida customer needs, including sites in Citrus County," it said.

“We believe the decision to retire the nuclear plant is in the best overall interests of our customers, investors, the state of Florida and our company,” said Jim Rogers, chairman, president, and CEO of Duke Energy. “This has been an arduous process of modeling, engineering, analysis and evaluation over many months. The decision was very difficult, but it is the right choice.”

The decision stems from what the company called a "comprehensive, months-long engineering analysis" of the damaged plant’s containment structure.

Initial damage to the nuclear unit, which began operating in 1977, occurred in late 2009 while workers were creating an opening in the structure to facilitate the replacement of the steam generators inside. The work to create the opening caused a delamination (or separation) in the concrete at the periphery of the containment building. The unit was already shut down for refueling and maintenance at the time the damage was found.

In mid-March 2011, during the final stages of returning the unit to service, work was suspended while engineers investigated and subsequently determined that a second delamination had occurred in another area of the structure. Similar to the initial delamination, the second separation occurred about 9 inches from the outer surface of the concrete. The Crystal River Nuclear Plant containment structure is about 42 inches thick, contains both horizontal and vertical tensioned steel tendons, and is lined with a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.

Repair of the damaged containment structure was estimated to hover at $1.5 billion, but it could have escalated to as much as $3.5 billion and take eight years to complete in the worst-case scenario, according to a 2012 independent review of a potential repair plan performed by Charlotte, N.C., consultant Zapata Inc. The review was commissioned by Duke Energy before its merger with Progress Energy.

Progress Energy on Tuesday said that it had reached a resolution with its insurance carrier, Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited (NEIL) of the company’s coverage claims through a mediation process. Under the terms of the mediator’s proposal, NEIL will pay an additional $530 million. "Along with the $305 million NEIL has already paid, customers will receive $835 million in insurance proceeds. This will be the largest claim payout in the history of NEIL," Progress Energy said.

The company said it is working to develop a comprehensive decommissioning plan. That plan will determine resource needs as well as the scope, schedule and other elements of the decommissioning. It revealed, however, that it 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," Progress Energy said.

Sources: POWERnews, Progress Energy