In Florida and the nation, nuclear power is poised for a comeback - and so far no one seems to mind.
For all the favorable conditions, new cooling towers in Crystal River or anywhere else in Florida aren't a foregone conclusion.
Potential opponents are quiet for the moment but could become more vocal. One prominent growth management/environmental group, 1000 Friends of Florida, has not taken a position. Another appears to be holding its fire. "We definitely have concerns," says Florida Public Interest Research Group field director Holly Binns, who adds that the group will become more vocal "when there is a formal proposal for a definite site."
There's still no solution to the problem of what to do with spent fuel rods. Most spent nuclear fuel is stored in pools of water on the sites of the nuclear reactors. The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in central Nevada was supposed to host the waste, but it has been mired in regulatory and legal red tape, and its opening date has been pushed back to 2012. Even with Yucca Mountain, there are questions about transporting spent fuel across the country.
And while nuclear power plants are cheap to operate -- producing electricity for almost half the cost of natural gas generation's 3.5 cents to 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour -- they are not cheap to build.
Edward Kee, a member of the global energy practice at PA Consulting Group in Washington, D.C., says that the cost for the first of the large, new nuclear plants could be as high as $5 billion. Progress Energy estimates the cost of its proposed plant at $2 billion to $3 billion.
Meanwhile, navigating the federal and state regulatory channels -- and actually building the plant -- will take plenty of time. In addition to federal laws and regulations, Florida electric utilities also must comply with the Power Plant Siting Act, a licensing process coordinated by the Florida DEP. The January DEP energy report recommended streamlining the Florida licensing process, which includes permitting, land use and zoning, and public hearings. In any event, Progress Energy's plant probably can't be up and running until at least 2016.
Ever cautious, Lyash points out, "You will not see anyone build a nuclear power plant if the people don't want it."
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 offers financial support to utilities that are first out of the starting block with a new generation of nuclear power plant. The legislation provides:
? Delay insurance. Cost overruns because of Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing delays and litigation delays that are not the fault of the private sector will be picked up by the federal government, up to $2 billion in total for up to six new nuclear power plants.
? Loan guarantees. Lower-cost financing is available for up to 80% of the project's cost.
? Production tax credits. A tax credit of $18 per megawatt hour for new nuclear capacity through 2021.
NuStart Energy is a consortium of energy companies founded in 2004 to demonstrate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's new design and application process.
? What's the plan: NuStart will use two sites in Mississippi and Alabama to test the NRC application process for a combined operating license. A final decision on whether to build the plants will be made when the license is issued. NuStart will not be involved in the construction process.
? Who's participating: Eight power companies, including Progress Energy, Juno Beach-based FPL Group and Southern Co. (parent company of Pensacola's Gulf Power). Also, the Tennessee Valley Authority and nuclear plant design-build companies GE Energy and Westinghouse Electric Co. are participating.
? Who's paying: The U.S. Department of Energy is sharing the cost of the licensing process with NuStart and its members. Each will pay $260 million.