Small leak at CR3 well noted

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Decommissioning organization in place

 By Pat Faherty

A leak in a spent-fuel pool at the Crystal River area nuclear plant was noted in a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report earlier this month.

An NRC update on waste confidence — the ongoing safe storage of spent nuclear fuel — by NRC Commissioner William C. Ostendorff cited a study that identified four nuclear power facilities that have experienced spent-fuel pool leakage, including Crystal River, known as CR3.

The report noted the leakage was contained within the pool collection system. Since CR3 was retired, all fuel has been removed from the reactor and stored in steel-lined pools.

“Commissioner Ostendorff is referencing a very small leak we have in the liner of the spent-fuel pool that was first discovered in the mid-1980s,” Duke Energy spokeswoman Heather Danenhower explained. “The leak has remained small with no measureable leak rate — most of the time.”

“The leak is well documented and within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards to ensure no adverse impact to the public’s or our employees’ health and safety or risk to the environment,” she said. “A tank called a sump, which other nuclear plants with similar designs have, collects the leaked water, and then we process it with our other radioactive waste.

“Over the years, we have evaluated the potential for the leak to worsen. Analysis has shown that the probability of the leak worsening is low. Plus, we have layer upon layer of backup systems in place.”

“For example, we have a groundwater monitoring program and our wells have never indicated the presence of radioactive contamination,” she added. “The spent-fuel pools are also above ground and equipped with a leak detection system.

“This system is routinely maintained as part of our preventative maintenance program, and operations personnel monitor the system during rounds at least once a day.

“Though we are decommissioning the plant, nuclear safety remains our top priority.”

According to Duke, the pool, as part of CR3, shares a water use permit with coal-burning units CR1 and CR2 for up to a million gallons a day.

Since Feb. 5, when Duke announced the decision to decommission CR3, the company has formed an in-house Decommissioning Transition Organization (DTO) to develop the scope, schedule and estimated costs of the decommissioning. The DTO is led by decommissioning director Terry Hobbs.

Cost estimates for the process have ranged from $842.6 million to $978 million, though Duke leaders have stated the $600 million the company has set aside will be adequate. The fund balance on Dec. 31, 2012, was $629 million, meeting NRC guidelines.

Duke Energy Florida customers contributed to the fund during the life of the plant until Public Service Commission action in 2002. The fund now has sufficient money based on investment growth without the need for customer contributions.

Duke is currently seeking a ruling from the Florida Public Service Commission that would permit the utility to allocate those funds among NRC license termination, spent fuel management and site restoration.

The NRC has scheduled an Aug. 29 meeting with Duke on decommissioning CR3. The meeting will be in Maryland, but the public can participate via a toll-free audio teleconference. Call 301-415-1055 for details prior to Aug. 28.

Contact Chronicle reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or pfaherty@chronicleonline.com.