Duke gives up on Crystal River

05 February 2013

Duke Energy has decided against trying to repair the Crystal River nuclear reactor, which has been offline for two years due to problems with containment concrete discovered during uprate work. Decommissioning begins immediately.

Crystal River (Duke Energy)
There are five power units at Crystal River butonly unit 3 is a nuclear reactor - the others are coal boilers (Image: Duke Energy) 

The plant has suffered a total reversal of fortunes since 2009, when it was in the process of a 20% power uprate and simultaneous application for a licence extension to generate until 2036.

The problem with the reactor was a delamination of concrete in the containment, leading to gaps within the structure which appeared when a large hole was cut to allow the removal and replacement of the units steam generators in late 2009. Nuclear reactor containments play an important safety role in protecting the reactor system from external impact and preventing the escape of radionuclides in case of serious accident.

A number of repair methods were explored, but some of these actually made the problem spread to other areas. After several months of study, Duke today announced it would simply retire the plant. The repair options had been technically feasible, it said, but would have cost at least around $1.5 billion and would have come with serious risks of cost and schedule overruns.

"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. Crystal River came under Duke Energy's ownership after its merger with Progress Energy in 2012.

Duke said it had already received $305 million reimbursement via Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited (NEIL), and this would be complimented by another $530 million. The sums were agreed through a mediation process and will go to Duke's customers, it said.

Some 600 people work at the reactor unit and Duke said "many" of these will be involved in the closing and initial decommissioning work. "The company will work with employees to help as many as possible make the transition to positions in other Duke Energy organizations." Four coal boilers operate at Crystal River, of which two will retire by 2018 while the other two continue thanks to $1 billion in emissions control upgrades. Crystal River's nuclear generation might be replaced by gas, said Duke, which is evaluating its options.

A decommissioning plan will now be drawn up for Crystal River, which Duke said would likely use the 'Safestor' approach. This would see it spend 40-60 years in a configuration that requires only limited staffing, while levels of radioactivity fall due to decay. This allows much quicker and simpler methods to be used when dismantling and site clearance take place.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News