The Crystal River closing is a set back for the nuclear industry that gets at both the plant’s high maintenance cost and the availability of inexpensive options to replace it. On over-reliance on natural gas, though, will eventually come back to bite -- the main reason why Duke and others are advising utilities to diversify their fuels.
Duke Energy’s decision to close its troubled nuclear unit in Florida may typify the times: inexpensive and abundant natural gas coupled with the uncertainty of building coal plants and the high expense associated with nuclear facilities.
Duke  will take the next 40 to 60 years to completely decommission its Chrystal River plant in Florida and in doing so, it will avoid repair costs of $3 billion over eight years. A combined-cycled natural gas plant is easy to permit and relatively cheap to run, making it the natural option to eventually replace the one to be retired. Duke, however, is not alone. It will be joined by Dominion Resources, which also plans to eliminate a nuclear unit in Wisconsin.
“This has been an arduous process of modeling, engineering, analysis and evaluation over many months,” says Duke’s Chief Executive James Rogers, in a formal statement. “The decision was very difficult, but it is the right choice.”
The nuclear unit in question gained the national spotlight in July 2012 when Duke’s board used it as the reason to ditch its newfound leader just hours after the Duke-Progress deal consummated. The board fired Bill Johnson, saying that the 2009 idling of Chrystal River was too costly to ratepayers and stockholders.
Unit 3 there, which is 36-years-old and 860 megawatts, had a crack in the containment wall. But when engineers and contractors sought to fix it, more such fissures formed. After examining the price tab to remedy the issue, Duke’s new board decided to shut it down. The money to pay for the dismantling will come from escrow accounts and its insurance carrier that will pay $835 million.
Nuclear energy has