The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears poised to approve Florida Power & Light's proposal to ramp up production at its St. Lucie County Nuclear Plant.
The 11 percent "uprate" -- which would generate roughly 100 additional megawatts at each of the two reactors -- is estimated to cost $706 million. A similar uprate is proposed for FPL's two Turkey Point reactors in Dade County.
FPL has already obtained preliminary approvals from the Florida Public Service Commission, as well as site certification from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
At a meeting Wednesday, NRC officials moved one step closer to granting FPL's uprate request. The commission has approved such increases at other plants, along with granting 20-year extensions for expiring reactor licenses.
FPL spokesman Michael Waldon characterized Wednesday's meeting as "part of the NRC's normal rigorous independent review of our project to improve the efficiency and increase the amount of clean electricity generated by St. Lucie."
Nuclear-industry critics charge that public safety is on the line.
"FPL is recklessly endangering public health and safety by increasing stresses on the nuclear reactor vessel, which could result in a total meltdown of the nuclear plant and spew high-level radioactive particles into the environment," warned Thomas Saporito, who formerly worked in the nuclear power industry.
Noting the 34- and 28-year vintage of the two St. Lucie reactors, Saporito warned that older reactor vessels can grow "critically brittle" and become increasingly vulnerable to cracks that could result from more intense use.
He accused the NRC of being "complacent" in dispensing 20-year extensions beyond the initial 40-year licenses issued to nuclear plants, including the four operated by FPL in Florida.
In a related critique, Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer of the consulting firm, Fairewinds Associates of Burlington, Vt., said, "The NRC and the nuclear industry are using a flawed cost-benefit computer code that underestimates the value of human life and minimizes property damages after an accident, which has the effect of justifying continued operation of reactors without safety modifications."
FPL counters that the uprate process is demonstrably safe and cost-effective.
"State-of-the-art equipment and processes used in the uprates will increase plant reliability, safety and efficiency," the utility states on its website.
"At the new uprated power levels, a number of components would be modified or replaced with the latest technology to accommodate production of additional megawatts. Components such as pipes, valves, pumps, heat exchangers, electrical transformers and generators, would be replaced or upgraded to accommodate the conditions that would exist at higher power levels."
Increasing reactor power results in water heating at a slightly higher temperature as it exits the reactor and enters the steam generators. There will also be an increased heat transfer from the steam generators to the secondary system.
The main steam flow to the turbines will also increase for all units as a result of the power uprates, FPL said.
Mark Bubriski, another FPL spokesman, has estimated that the nuclear uprate will save customers $4.8 billion on fossil fuel costs over the life of the project.
Waldron added that the uprate will reduce oil consumption by 5 million barrels and cut CO2 emissions by 32 million tons.
Saporito has filed an intervention request with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, seeking a public hearing on the FPL uprate. The ASLB can object to the NRC decision, but, ultimately, the NRC has the final word.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.