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Greener thinking, and a nuclear path  

Gov. Charlie Crist’s push to be green could mean more nuclear plants in Florida.

The word “nuclear” does not appear in any of the three executive orders Crist signed at the close of his global warming summit Friday ordering tighter vehicle emission standards and a reduction of greenhouse gases.

But he, as well as power utilities, are planning for more nuclear energy in the future. And the sweeping greenhouse gas reductions Crist embraced this week may solidify more nuclear power as a cornerstone of Florida’s energy policy.

When Crist discusses renewable energy, he inevitably mentions “solar, wind and nuclear.” “I think it’s just as important,” Crist said Friday of nuclear power. “It’s clean, it produces a lot of juice.”

Among the efforts Crist enacted Friday to reduce greenhouse gases will be a requirement that 20 percent of energy supplied by utilities in the state come from renewable sources.

While that most commonly means solar and wind power, Crist has mentioned nuclear energy as an option as well.

Utility leaders said Friday that achieving that 20 percent goal could require more nuclear energy, especially if it is classified as renewable energy that would meet Crist’s targets.

“If nuclear power is not included in that mix, it may become a big challenge to meet those goals,” said Mayco Villafana, a spokesman for Florida Power & Light.

Jeff Lyash, the president of Progress Energy in Florida, said the company is committed to developing solar, wind and biomass fuels in the future.

“Those are critically important,” he said. “But it is not going to be enough to be able to turn the tide on CO2 and reduce it. You must also find ways to generate bulk electricity to support growth. The one thing that’s available to us today that’s safe, cost-effective and emits no (greenhouse gases) is nuclear.”

Lyash said he hopes to include savings generated by energy efficiency efforts as a renewable source.

“How more renewable can something get than not using it?” he said.

Efforts to build more nuclear plants may not be evident for decades.

It takes about 10 years and billions of dollars to obtain the necessary state and federal approval and construct a plant.

Progress Energy is building a plant in Levy County and hopes to have it operating by 2016. And FPL has discussed expanding its existing nuclear operations at Turkey Point in Miami-Dade by 2020.

Crist has already pushed Florida toward a nuclear future.

With pressure from the governor, the state’s utility commission denied an FPL permit to build a coal-burning plant in Glades County. Another power group later cited Crist’s opposition in ending plans for a coal plant in Taylor County west of Gainesville.

One of the two members Crist has appointed to the Public Service Commission said Friday that the apparent demise of coal as a future fuel option in the state makes nuclear energy likelier.

“I think nuclear will come into play more and more,” said Nancy Argenziano, a former state legislator from Dunnellon. “I like nuclear far better than coal.”

She said the PSC may travel to Nevada to explore how nuclear waste is stored at the Yucca Mountain Repository.

And a study group, the Florida Energy Commission, said earlier this month that the state should not only consider building more nuclear plants, but also study construction of a facility to recycle nuclear waste.

Environmental groups that have swooned at Crist’s energy policies are not likely to agree with him on the future of nuclear energy.

“If you spend all the money that you have to develop global warming options on nuclear, you’re going to do the least you can possibly do to solve the problem by spending the most money,” said Dale Bryk, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Holly Binns, field director for Environment Florida, said most of the state’s future energy needs could be met largely by more efficient use of energy and increased use of solar and wind power.

More critical for many environmentalists is the lingering issue of disposing of nuclear waste safely.

“We’ve had 30 years to figure out what to do with this highly dangerous waste,” Binns said. “And if we haven’t solved it yet, to think we’re going to in the next year or two is pretty absurd.”


15 July 2007

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