Saturday, October 15, 2005

Governor advocates nuclear power

Tallahassee Democrat | 10/13/2005 | Governor advocates nuclear power

PHOENIX -- Operators of the nation's largest nuclear power plant aren't sure when the triple-reactor facility will be back on line after being shut down over to safety concerns.


Two reactors at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, located about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, were shut down late Tuesday night.

The 20-year-old plant's other unit has been down for refueling and repairs since Oct. 7.

Jim McDonald, a spokesman for plant operator Arizona Public Service Co., said Wednesday that the utility has ample power to serve its customers.

However, the Republic said the shutdown would likely boost electricity prices as utilities that count on relatively inexpensive Palo Verde electricity have to purchase replacement power on the open market or run higher-cost natural-gas generators.

APS shut down the plant's two operating reactors after it was unable to demonstrate to regulators that a key safety system would perform as designed, officials said.

The problem, which involves an emergency system that cools the plant's nuclear reactors after an accident, also affects the third unit that is being refueled.

"It's not that the system wouldn't operate, it's that we couldn't prove that it would," McDonald said.

Given the situation, conditions of APS's operating permit required the units be shutdown.

McDonald couldn't say when the two units would be restarted.

A restart would have to be cleared by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the safety issue would first have to be resolved.

McDonald said the company is exploring several options that could bring the units back on line. The unit down for refueling will be out for 10 to 12 weeks, McDonald said.

While the accident the system is designed to mitigate has a low probability of happening, NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said its malfunction carries the potential for a significant safety problem.

The NRC stepped up supervision of Palo Verde earlier this year, due to another problem with the plant's emergency reactor cooling system that resulted in a $50,000 fine.

While the agency has concerns about the operation of the plant, the NRC does not believe it is being operated unsafely, according to Dricks.

APS owns 29.5 percent of the plant and operates it for a consortium of utility companies in four states.

The plant supplies electricity to about 4 million customers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California.

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