More nuclear power planned for Florida

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Customers of Florida's two largest power companies will have paid $772 million by the end of 2011 to produce more nuclear power - before any concrete has been poured.
    The money has been plowed into planning the expansions. Florida Power & Light has applied for state and federal approval to build two reactors and expand four generators. Progress Energy Florida wants to build two reactors in Levy County. Florida has five reactors.
    With the approvals, there's no guarantee the projects will be built. Uncertainty is growing over whether the new reactors and expanded generators will be cost-effective in light of lower natural gas prices and new safety measures that may be required after Japan's nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
    "Ultimately the decision to build will be based on a number of factors: the economic situation, the cost of nuclear [power] relative to other sources of generation, and what's going to deliver the greatest positive return for our customers," FPL spokesman Mike Waldron said. He said FPL expects to decide after it secures the required approvals, which is likely in 2014.
    The approval process for nuclear power generators can take five or more years. In today's Money section, see details of the power companies' plans, the issues that regulators will consider, and timetables for approval and construction.

A guide to Florida's proposed nuclear expansionsWhat will they cost you, and what hurdles remain?Construction of Florida's newest nuclear reactors could start in 2013.
    Progress Energy Florida could win all federal and state approvals for its two nuclear reactors in time to start construction then. Florida Power & Light could begin construction of two reactors at Turkey Point a year later.
    Customers of these utilities would then begin paying financing costs for the new reactors, which are projected to cost up to $41 billion combined. They would start paying for the construction about eight years later, when the plants are running.
    FPL also wants to expand energy production at its four existing nuclear generators in the next couple of years at a cost of up to $2.5 billion.
    Supporters of nuclear power say the plants, once built, would be cheap, reliable, clean sources of energy that would help diversify the state's power supply.
    Until then, customers of these two power companies are paying to plan and win approvals of the new reactors and expansions of four existing generators. In Florida, companies can charge customers for nuclear planning as costs are incurred. Economists have said it's a no-brainer for companies to move forward with plans because they don't have to pay for them.
    FPL began seeking approval for its projects in 2007; Progress in 2008. Here is what's on the table for both companies.
   
Proposed expansions
    FPL, the state's largest electrical utility, wants to build two reactors at its Turkey Point plant near Miami, expand by 15 percent two existing generators at Turkey Point and expand by 12 percent two generators in St. Lucie County. FPL operates two reactors at Turkey Point and two in St. Lucie County.
    Progress, the state's second-largest utility, plans two reactors in Levy County. It has completed part of an expansion at its plant near Crystal River. That reactor has been shut down since late 2009, when expansion work triggered a crack in the concrete and steel building around the reactor. Progress fixed the damage but is investigating other possible smaller cracks.
   
Project costs
    Planning: FPL will spend $314 million, including $31 million this year.
    Progress will spend $457 million, including $60 million this year.
    Construction: $13 billion to $18 billion to build two reactors at Turkey Point, including new pipelines to transport cooling water and 89 miles of new transmission lines.
    $2.3 billion to $2.5 billion to expand FPL's four existing reactors.
    $17 billion to $23 billion to build two reactors in Levy County. The cost includes interest, fuel and the price of building 200 miles of transmission lines.
    Energy to be generated: About 4,440 megawatts by the four new reactors, enough energy to power about 2 million homes.
   
Impact on natural resources
    90 million gallons of water a day would be needed to cool FPL's new reactors. Miami-Dade County would provide the water to from its wastewater treatment plant to help meet goals for reusing water. FPL plans to inject the water 3,000 feet deep, under a layer of rock beneath the Floridan Aquifer, from which the region's drinking water is drawn.
    100 million to 130 million gallons of water each day would be needed for Progress' new reactors. Less than 1 percent of water needed to cool the reactors, about 1 million gallons, would come from the Floridan Aquifer and the rest would come from the Gulf of Mexico, which is about seven miles away. More than half of the water would go back to the gulf; the rest would evaporate during cooling.
    FPL would cut its use of oil by the equivalent of 5 million barrels a year by expanding its generators. Savings are hard to predict because prices can fluctuate dramatically. Based on current fuel costs, FPL projects the expansions could save $4.6 billion over the life of the generators and the proposed reactors could save another $75 billion over 40 years.
    Progress projects its fuel savings at $1 billion a year.
   
Approvals so far
    The state Public Service Commission verified about three years ago that additional electric power will be needed. The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved Progress' proposed reactors and the expansion of FPL's existing generators.
   
Approvals still needed
    The DEP plans to consider a land use and zoning license for FPL's proposed reactors and transmission lines in late 2012.
    The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will consider licensing both companies to build and operate the reactors after it's convinced the companies have met environmental and safety standards. Those standards could change. The NRC is doing 90-day and six-month-long reviews to determine whether rules need to be adjusted based on went wrong in Japan. The findings could affect how or whether some of the nation's 21 pending nuclear projects are built.
   
Regulators' timetable
    Approval from the NRC for the proposed expansion of the existing Turkey Point units could happen as early as this fall. It's unclear when the agency will complete its review of the St. Lucie expansion.
    As for FPL's new reactors, the NRC asked the utility for more information on safety issues last week and plans to release an initial report on environmental issues in October.
    The agency plans to give an initial safety report for Progress in September and a draft of responses to environmental concerns in November.
   
Issues to be considered
    Reactor design: Regulators recently said they were concerned about the design FPL and Progress plan to use for their new reactors, Westinghouse's AP1000. The company is working to assure regulators that the reactor building could withstand peak pressure during an accident.
    Groundwater contamination: The NRC limits the topics it will evaluate and who can raise them in the licensing process for new reactors. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and National Parks Conservation Association will be able to question whether Florida's groundwater could be contaminated because used cooling water is to be injected deep under Florida's aquifer for the Turkey Point proposal.
    Nuclear waste: Citizens Allied for Safe Energy will be allowed to challenge FPL's long-term storage plans for low-level nuclear waste and supplies such as clothing and equipment contaminated with radioactive material. FPL says it plans to ship the waste offsite, but the NRC wrote that "at this juncture of the proceeding, however, we are not able to conclude, based on the present record, that FPL will in fact be able to do so." Groups opposing the Progress reactors will be able to raise a similar issue.
    Ecology: Opponents of the Progress reactors will be able to voice concern about the ecological impacts of removing water from the Gulf and the aquifer to cool its new reactors.
   
Issues that won't be considered
    The NRC decided not to hear arguments over more than two dozen other concerns that opponents wanted to raise. For instance, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, known as CASE, has argued that FPL does not have an adequate plan for accidents involving radioactive materials and for orderly evacuation if there is a disaster. It also alleged that FPL failed to "consider the impact of projected sea level rise, storm surge, and site inundations that could result in the dispersal of [low-level radioactive waste] off the Turkey Point site," according to an NRC recap.
    Regulators said the storm surge concern is based on assumptions that aren't in FPL's plan and that aren't plausible or "reasonably foreseeable" scenarios. Regulators also said FPL addressed the radiation and evacuation issues.
    Critics say FPL should fix issues reported about its existing plants before expanding. For instance, there were 145 complaints to the NRC from workers and contractors at FPL's four reactors from 2008 to 2010 on issues such as security, overworked employees and safety. Twenty-one complaints were verified by regulators.
    After regulators told FPL to improve the environment for employees who want to report problems without retaliation, the utility moved its employee concerns office to make it more convenient, among other things. More issues are reported directly to FPL, indicating many workers feel comfortable going that route.
    jvpatel@tribune.com or 954-356-4667

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