The economics of restarting an old nuclear plant

The Crystal River Nuclear Plant in Florida.

Jeremy Hobson: A new Associated Press poll out of Japan today finds that six months after earthquake that caused that nuclear accident at Fukushima, more than half of the Japanese people want to reduce their country's reliance on nuclear energy. Here in the U.S., just the opposite is happening. Last month, regulators in Georgia approved new construction of nuclear power plants. And in Florida, there's a discussion going on about the economics of
restarting an old nuclear power plant.

Robin Sussingham reports now from WUSF in Tampa.


Robin Sussingham: This summer, Progress Energy did something extremely rare. The company invited reporters into one of its nuclear plants.

Jon Franke: In light of the events at Fukushima in Japan, we felt it was important to invite the media in, to become transparent with our business.

That's Jon Franke, vice president of the Crystal River nuclear plant; it's about 80 miles north of Tampa. Franke had to answer questions about more than nuclear safety. The larger concern here is that this plant hasn't generated any power since 2009. That's when workers cut a hole in the thick concrete containment wall so they could bring in a new steam generator. That work created cracks 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 in Florida. He says no other nuclear plant has had these problems.

Vincent Dolan: It was a unique sort of situation, one that was not something that we think we could have foreseen.

It's going to cost about $1 billion to repair. The company and its rate-payers are hopeful -- but not certain -- that insurance will pay for it.

Jon Moyle represents industrial users who want to keep rates low. He says the Crystal River nuclear plant reminds him of an old Tom Hanks movie.

Jon Moyle: 'The Money Pit.' It just keeps going and going and more money keeps going in.

The repairs will be expensive, but not doing anything would cost more. The plant provided 10 percent of Progress Energy's power, and President Vincent Dolan says nuclear energy is cheap -- cheaper than replacement fuels like natural gas.

Dolan: It would essentially cost $300 million more per year to consumers to not have that plant be available to us to run.

And that cost is based on today's natural gas prices -- which are low. But that price could easily change, and consumers worry as the unplanned costs pile up.

In Tampa, I'm Robin Sussingham for Marketplace.

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