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PSC's Graham: nuclear power is cheap, secure way for Florida's future

Despite Progress Energy's broken nuclear plant and questions of whether the utility ever will build a second reactor, the chairman of the state Public Service Commission touts nuclear power as a critical source for Florida's future.

Speaking to the St. Petersburg Times editorial board Tuesday, Art Graham said he believes nuclear power remains the least expensive way to generate electricity. He said the problems that have arisen with nuclear plants should not stop future development of reactors.

"I think the biggest mistake we made when Three Mile Island happened was that we turned and ran from it," said Graham, referring to the 1979 meltdown at the nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pa.

Graham was in the Tampa Bay area with state Public Counsel J.R. Kelly on Tuesday visiting a TECO power station in Polk County. It was an educational site visit of a coal plant that is one of just three in the nation to take coal and turn it into gas to produce electricity — referred to as a type of "clean coal."

Graham, a PSC commissioner since July 2010 and chairman since October, asked the Public Counsel's Office to attend the TECO visit after the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in South Florida reported Friday that he and another state regulator met with utility representatives about pending issues without inviting consumer advocates and others to join the discussion, which would be a violation of state law.

While praising the coal technology, Graham said the state's nuclear power sources have proved to be clean and more efficient.

He would not discuss costs related to Progress Energy's Crystal River nuclear plant, which has been offline for almost two years, because of a nuclear cost recovery hearing next week. Graham, the former recovery engineer with Georgia-Pacific Pulp and Paper and past president of ART Environmental Consulting Services, said he wants to repair the negative views of the PSC.

But his stance on nuclear could be a sticking point for him. Consumer advocates question just how cheap nuclear really is, in particular when troubles arise, such as at Progress Energy's Crystal River nuclear plant.

"The utilities say nuclear is cheaper," said James Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida. "Nuclear is expensive."

Progress Energy ratepayers continue to pay operational costs for the utility's Crystal River nuclear plant, though it has not generated electricity in almost two years. Workers shut down the reactor for major maintenance and later found two gaps in the reactor's containment building that have kept it offline.

The plant is not expected to return to service until at least 2014. Repairs and the purchase of electricity while the plant remains offline could cost the utility more than $2 billion, costs covered in part by insurance and by Progress Energy customers.

"We strongly feel, if it's not up, if it's not running … consumers should not have to pay for what's not working, unless it comes back online," Kelly said.

-- Ivan Penn

Comments

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University Energy Expert

It is very disappointing to hear the Chairman of the Public Service has little understanding of nuclear costs. He is correct in that older nuclear facilities with no remaining debt service are in effect, cheap sources of power. They were built when construction costs were cheap, regulatory approval was cheap and labor and raw materials were relatively inexpensive. Today's environment is very different. To construct a nuclear power plant such as the one Progres is proposing, the company must borrow in excess of $25 billion - with estimates now ranging in excess of $33 billion. Spread around the ratepayers in Progress' service territory, this is a MASSIVE cost - akin to more than tripling the bills of Progress customers with a 40 debt year amortization.

It is unclear how much the FPL nuclear expansions would cost at this time, but estimates are lower because of existing infrastructure. But still very expensive.

Nuclear power is reliable. And it is a valuable part of the energy production "pie" in Florida. But it is not cheap, and representations as such are misleading at best, false at worse.

The PSC Chairman should ask his staff to reach out beyond the borders of Progress Energy representatives to recieve a thorough briefing on the current and future projected costs of construcing, operating and maintaining a large nuclear plant while addressing ongoing storage concerns.

The reprentation that nuclear power is the "least expensive" option is simply false by any reasonable measure.

RagnarokRobo

Mentions three mile island yet no mention of the continuing Fukushima disaster thats still belching radiation into the atmosphere and contaminating the whole of Japan.

Yes, cheap, secure way to turn Florida into a nuclear wasteland. Glad we've got such courageous men in office always ready to sell out to large corporate interests that are the only ones who benefit from this blight on the planet.

daniel

@ RagnarokRobo

No one died at TMI from radiation exposure and no one will at Fukushima. Get the basics info on how radiation really affect humans.

Paxus Calta

No one will die at Fukushima? This is a wonderful prediction. Perhaps you have not seen tha robots have just pulled 5 sievert and 10 sievert readings off of the area outside the pant. At these levels the US NRC say exposure for an hour will induce death within a month for 50$ of the people who go there. These are just the ones we have found. It was not a very orderly explosion, there are quite likely more than just these two.

See http://paxus.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/it-is-okay-because-no-one-died/

Charlie

There always seems to be those who stand against progress and independence. Nuclear energy is the only technology that will allow the United States to shed its need for coal, oil, and to some extent natural gas. If anyone thinks renewable energy is the only way they are fooling themselves. Solar and wind cannot provide the levels of sustained power this nation requires to push ourselves out of this recession.

Simul8guy

I don't know where the self-proclaimed 'University Energy Expert' is getting his numbers for the estimated cost of construction for a next generation nuclear but they are clearly inflated. How about citng your references for these numbers... If a single new nuclear unit were to cost $33 billion I doubt Southern Company in the next state over would be pushing ahead with two new AP1000 units at the existing Vogtle nuclear plant...

daniel

@RagnaRobo

When R2D2 shuts down due to excess radiation, I may cry a bit. In the mean time, everybody that was 'stupidly' evacuated from Fukushima is coming home in 2 weeks. These evacuations will be remembered as the only tragedy from the nuclear industrial accident.

I guess radiation is getting better understood now.

Have an atomic day !!!!

Bryce Ardon

People always seem to forget that Three Mile Island and Fukushima accidents led to zero deaths. "The Energy Construct" shows a nice comparison of fatality and injury rates from the main energy options--nuclear has the best record by far (consider coal mining accidents, gas explosions, dam ruptures).

daniel

There is a lesson to be learned here. At Fukushima Daiichi, nuclear plants built 40 years ago did pretty well when hit by the third biggest earthquake ever and a tsunami.

Just a few miles up the coast, all the reactors at the Fuskushima Daini plant resisted with no problems. They were built 30 years ago.

Let's get new technology off the ground, stop worrying and breathe clean air.

Have an atomic day !!!

Fred

A free market is not what nuclear power is all about; just look at the 40 year amortization that such plants require and you'll understand. Look at all that is taken care of for nuclear by the Federal government and passed back to the average citizen as taxes in general and you'll understand. The question is: who REALLY wants to understand?

Daniel

@Fred

When thermal plants will be accountable to manage all the waste that they
Put in lungs and the environment Thru a fair carbon tax, it just won't be
Fun for nuclear. We would be no match in terms of costs even if we have the
Cheapest source of energy today !

solarpvowner

Daniel is using typical sales techniques: trivialize concerns and play up benefits. In other words, he is lying by misrepresenting the importance of various benefits and drawbacks. Obviously, the main benefit for building more nuclear is the windfall for the power companies and the professionals who will get to work on it. Costs for decommissioning and the potential disasters that could occur as well as pollution from mining uranium are trivialized. He is obviously a paid shill for the nuclear industry, and I would not believe anything that he says.

daniel

@ solarpvowner

The pollution of mining what ? 50,000 tons of Uranium a year! You have to be kidding.

But let us not address the toxic wastes generated by solar that the industry does not have to capture nor account for as opposed to nuclear which has to manage the entire waste cycle.

And let's not discuss the energy density and land requirements of solar versus nuclear. That could put a things in perspective.

Have an atomic day !

KNOW NUKES

Paul

A year study by "The Associted Press on the 104 Nuclear sites in the USA reveiled that 48 sites were leaking Tritium,Deadly to humans.

Furthermore,in states like Florida which have high water tables,tritium enters the fresh drinking water systems of our citizens, which is suffering from a survier water shortage, presnting a double problem.

Looking at the long term goals for energy for Florida, Using the successful methods of other countries, (Solar, Wind, Bio) there is no doubt the need for large nuclear plants will not be necessary. Studies done by the Univ of Fla. in the'70's proved the best combination for energy in Florida is Solar & Gas.

I am not saying we should wipe out other types of energy, just relating when scientific studies are completed, people on PSC boards and politicians should read the data first before forming conclusions.

After 36 years of data from The Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa Beach Fla, Nothing has changed. People are starting to suggest we call Florida "The Full Eclipse State"!

daniel

@ Paul,

A lot of stuff is deadly to humans when a lethal or 'legal' dose is reached. The tritium leaked from Nuclear plants is insignificant and of no consequences to humans or the environment.

For example, a lot is being said these days about the Vermont nuclear plant and its tritium leakages over the years. All measurements prove the dosage to be insignificant and of no concerns.

Let's not forget either that nuclear medicine, which saves millions of lives, feeds itself from what we call 'them nasty nuclear wastes'. Tc99, Cesium, Baryum and even Strontium all have a role to play in modern medicine.

KNOW NUKES

Have an atomic day !!!

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