Florida Green Party calls for state to shut down and phase out nuclear power plants

Progress Energy has already said they'll continue to build their nuclear plant at Crystal River — barring anything else occurring over the next decade, which is how long it will take to construct.  The Legislature granted the utility permission in 2009 to start raising rates to pay for it.  New Port Richey State Senator Mike Fasano has filed a bill to change this, saying the monthly cost could rise to $60 a month for customers by 2016.

Friday will mark three weeks since the horrific earthquake/tsunami devastated Japan's northeast and knocked out the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant reactor's cooling system.

ABC News reports that Japanese officials are testing the soil contaminated by radiation from the crippled plant to try to determine whether spring farming can begin, as "alarmingly high radiation levels" have been detected outside the evacuation zone today.

In the immediate days that followed the disaster, discussions began about the viability of nuclear power — from which the U.S. currently gets at least 20 percent of its energy — without a firm consensus on what happens next.

Although much has been made of the fact that no nuclear power plants have been built in the U.S. since the incident at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979, it isn't because those who favor such plants have been spooked by that incident.  No, it's because of the exorbitant costs associated with building a plant that has stopped production.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the last construction permit for a nuclear plant was issued in January of 1978.  The last year a nuclear plant went on line was in 1996, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In Florida, there are currently five nuclear reactors in operation in Florida, with two at Turkey Point on Biscayne Bay, two in Port St. Lucie, and one at Crystal River. The Crystal River reactor (CR-3) has been shut down for repairs since September 2009, when a large crack was discovered in the concrete and steel containment vessel. In recent weeks, just as the plant was being prepared to go back online, new cracks were discovered.

Now the Green Party of Florida says after Japan, no more.

"Floridians must tell President Obama and Governor Scott, as well as our elected representatives in Tallahassee, that we oppose any further public subsidies for the nuclear industry," said Jayne King, co-chair of the Green Party of Florida. "The public and the government should not be guaranteeing profits for the companies building more nuclear reactors in the state," King added, "because there are plenty of safer and less expensive options for meeting the state's energy needs."

The Miami Herald reported last week that though the next-generation reactors Florida Power & Light hopes to install at Turkey Point have been touted as simpler and safer, the Westinghouse AP 1000 may not be all that its supporters have said it can be in terms of being safe in the midst of a hurricane or tornado.

In a March 7 letter, sent before Japan's 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., urged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to revaluate its all-but-final approval of the AP 1000, citing concerns raised by John Ma, the agency's own lead structural reviewer for the design.

An outer shield building that serves as first line of defense was too brittle, Markey wrote, and could fail during a quake or "if struck by an airplane or an automobile or other missile carried by a storm. In fact, Dr. Ma warned that if the AP 1000 shield was struck it could shatter like a glass cup."

Failure of the building, Markey's letter said, could expose the steel reactor containment vessel inside to damage. It also could potentially compromise the massive tank holding more than 3,000 tons of water atop the 130-foot structure.

Another analysis commissioned by environmental groups last year questioned whether the steel containment vessel — a critical barrier against accidental radiation release — was too vulnerable to rust that could cause dangerous holes and cracks, which have been discovered in a half-dozen older reactors nationwide.

Arnie Gundersen, a Vermont-based nuclear engineer and consultant who authored that study, said the flaws potentially could undermine the AP 1000's safety features.

"There is a concept in the nuclear industry called a single point of vulnerability,'' Gundersen said. "Remember, Goliath was a pretty tough guy but there was a hole in his armor.'' 

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