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Go green with nuclear

A Times Editorial
Published December 18, 2006


Here is how much public attitudes have changed on nuclear power generation: When Progress Energy Florida picked a proposed nuclear reactor site in Levy County the other day, the major controversy that arose was whether neighboring Citrus County would share enough of the economic benefit.

Fears from accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have been eclipsed in recent years by an admirable safety record at this nation's nuclear plants and recognition of the economic and environmental downsides to oil, natural gas and coal as fuels. While renewable sources of energy such as solar power are still in the developmental stage, nuclear is the new green.

Unlike traditional plants, those powered by uranium emit no sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide or mercury - pollutants that threaten public health. Nuclear power is particularly promising in reversing global warming, because it doesn't release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There are legitimate concerns about where radioactive wastes will be stored and plant security. Congress needs to act decisively to address those issues.

The process of winning approval for nuclear power plant construction is complex and demanding, as it should be. The company hasn't made a final decision to build a reactor (or possibly two) 8 miles north of its existing Crystal River plant, but if it should go ahead, the project will take 10 years from start to finish.

It will be expensive, too, with an estimated cost of $5-billion for the two-reactor option. Current customers would pay some of that tab in their electric bills, because a new state law allows electric companies to seek ongoing reimbursement for some financing costs.

Jeffrey Lyash, CEO of Progress Energy Florida, says that would amount to "single-digit dollars" added to monthly bills. And because nuclear fuel is much less expensive than fossil fuels, the investment would pay off in lower rates for consumers in about six years, he said. If the numbers turn out that way as the project advances, that sounds like a reasonable investment to meet Florida's growing need for electricity.

The company put great care into picking the Levy County site: 3,000 undeveloped acres in a rural area, with the plant footprint taking up only 300 of those acres. The reactors would sit on higher ground and be further from the coast and tidal surge than the one at Crystal River, but they would be close enough that the two facilities could share some resources. The underlying limestone is particularly stable by state standards and the site is near the Cross Florida Barge Canal, a reliable source of water needed to cool the reactors.

Most importantly, Floridians will have many opportunities to learn more and to speak up. Permitting processes at both the state and national level should allow for plenty of public input and refinement of the plan.

So far, Progress Energy has been forthcoming with information. There is no doubt the company must act soon to prepare for the predictable growth in demand for electricity in this part of the state. Nuclear may prove to be the best way to go.

[Last modified December 17, 2006, 21:58:04]

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