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5/5/03 1:21:00 PM ET

Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light
nukes found with reactor vessel woes

Reuters, 05.05.03, 10:33 AM ET


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NEW YORK, May 5 (Reuters) - Two huge Southeast nuclear power units owned by FPL Group Inc. (nyse: FPL - news - people) and Duke Energy Co. (nyse: FPL - news - people) have been found with degraded reactor vessel head problems, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday in an event notification report.

The two units, the 839 megawatt (MW) St Lucie 2 nuclear unit in Florida, which is owned by FPL Group, and the 846 MW Oconee 3 unit in South Carolina, which is owned by Duke Energy, are currently shut for refueling and maintenance, and are not expected to pose any public health threats.

One megawatt is enough energy to power about 1,000 homes.

The reactor vessel head at the Oconee unit, shut since about April 26, is scheduled for replacement during the present outage, the company said previously. Oconee is currently slated to return to the power grid in early June.

The St Lucie unit, which has been shut since about April 20, was expected to return to service in late May since typical refueling outages last about 30-35 days.

Plant operators, however, discovered a defect in reactor vessel head penetration on April 30. The defect is described as an axial flaw, 0.28 inches deep and 0.96 inches long.

On May 2, FPL discovered a second flaw, 0.39 inches deep and 2.98 inches long.

No further information was immediately available.

The NRC ordered owners of all U.S. pressurized water reactors, like St Lucie and Oconee, to inspect their reactor vessel heads after discovering severe corrosion last year on FirstEnergy Corp.'s (nyse: FE - news - people) Davis-Besse nuclear unit in Ohio.

Repairs have kept the Davis-Besse plant shut for more than a year with the cost, including purchases of replacement power from other generators, likely to top $400 million.

Late last week, the NRC met with managers of the giant South Texas nuclear power station to discuss findings of boric acid deposits on the bottom of the reactor vessel.

Early estimates put the cost of the South Texas outage at about $5 million to $6 million and the plant is expected to remain out of service until at least the end of the summer, several months past its original return date.

Pressurized water reactors account for 69 of the 103 working nuclear units in the U.S.

Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service

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