Will Nuclear Plant Repairs Pay Off for Consumers?

TAMPA (2011-9-1) -

Nuclear power has been getting a lot of attention lately. Progress Energy has been defending its rate hikes to fund construction of a new nuclear plant in Levy County. But the power company is also hoping to start up an OLD nuclear plant, one that's been out of commission since 2009. That's when workers cut a hole in the thick concrete containment wall to bring in a new steam generator. That work created gaps in the concrete.
Repairs took more than a year… And when the company was almost ready to start producing power again, it found more cracks.
Vincent Dolan is the president of Progress Energy Florida. He says no other nuclear plant has had these problems.
"It was a unique sort of situation," he says, "one that was not one that we think we could have foreseen"
It's going to cost about a billion dollars to repair, and will take another three years. The company and its rate payers are hopeful -- but not certain - that insurance will pay for it.
It's that uncertainty that has Charles Rehwinkel worried. He’s with the state's Office of Public Counsel, and represents the customers when power companies seek to set higher rates. He says he's especially concerned because no one's ever fixed a problem like the one at Crystal River.
"It's never been done before," says Rehwinkel. "It's never been designed or engineered or constructed or licensed. And we don't have a clear picture on how the insurance coverage will work with this."
The repairs will be expensive, but not doing anything would cost more. The plant provided 10 percent of Progress Energy's power. President Vincent Dolan says nuclear energy is cheap -- cheaper than the fuels replacing it now, like natural gas.
"It's the least expensive power source to run on our system. So once all the units are built and operating it's the lowest incremental cost to run the nuclear compared to running an oil plant or a coal plant or a gas-fired plant," Dolan say. "It would essentially cost $300 million more per year -- to consumers -- to not have that plant be available to us to run.”
But Jon Moyle is worried about cost overruns as the company repairs the plant. Moyle represents industries in Florida that use a lot of electricity and who have a big stake in keeping rates low.
He says the Crystal River nuclear plant reminds him of an old Tom Hanks movie: "…the Money Pit. It just keeps going and going and more money keeps going in…"

He says customers didn't cause the damage -- and shouldn't be forced to pay for it.
But like the MOVIE "The Money Pit," Moyle says he's still hoping for a happy ending.

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