As I reported last week, Charlotte, N.C.-based utility Duke Energy announced that it plans to retire its damaged Crystal River nuclear powerplant in Citrus County, Fla. For some ENR readers, that news likely signaled the end of the story, since a previously planned multibillion-dollar repair effort will not be undertaken, after all. But for hundreds of plant workers in mostly rural Citrus County, another chapter of the story is just beginning.
There have been quite a few twists and turns in the saga of the broken nuclear plant over the past three-plus years -- including the initial report of damage, the plan for repairs, the settlement with the state of Florida, the boardroom coup and the subsequent government hearings. And now add in a devastating blow to one county's economic fortunes.
Indeed, before moving on, ENR readers might want to take a moment and remember what caused all of this in the first place: a failure of engineering that led a project horribly awry. Or, as Ivan Penn, the reporter who led the Tampa Bay Times' outstanding coverage of this affair, stated in his story on the plant's retirement: "Seldom, if ever, has an effort to save $15 million cost so many, so much."
As ENR readers know, when it comes to construction and engineering projects, lives and livelihoods are arguably always on the line. If an engineer delivers a faulty design, or a constructor fails to build according to design, it's possible that lives or jobs, or both, can be quickly lost.
In the case of Crystal River -- also called Crystal River 3, or CR3 -- no one was injured or killed, but hundreds of jobs are now at risk as a result of the failure of Progress Energy to properly execute a scheduled repowering of CR3. As the Tampa Bay Times has reported, the shutdown of CR3 will have a tremendous negative impact on Citrus County and the roughly 600 full-time workers that the nuclear facility employed. And Progress Energy, which was purchased by Duke last year, was one of the county's largest taxpayers, accounting for a large percentage of the county's general fund, according to the Times report.
True, the precise guilty party, or single action, that caused CR3's containment dome to crack during the utility's repowering efforts may never be determined exactly. But this much can be assumed: somewhere, somehow, someone didn't properly assess the risks of the design they were undertaking to construct. Whether it was faulty engineering or flawed construction is mostly beside the point now, and is likely of little relevance to the workers now facing their own individual economic uncertainty.
But it didn't have to be this way.
Tampa's ABC affiliate filed this report on Duke Energy's announcement to close Crystal River, and the impact on Citrus County.
In 2010, Progress Energy posted this Youtube video touting the benefits of a career at its Crystal River facility. In it, a Progress Energy worker sums up the opportunities at Crystal River with two phrases: "career advancement," and "fun." In its announcement, Duke Energy said it would try to find other jobs for as many of the nuclear plant's 600 full-time workers as possible.
According to reports, the closing of CR3 will reduce Duke Energy's tax bill to Citrus County. But even before announcing the plant's retirement, the utility was telling county officials that it would be limiting its tax payments. In this video, a county commissioner explains how Duke Energy informed the commission of its intentions to cut payments.