Crystal River is located on the west coast of Florida, very close to where the Panhandle bends out. One of the largest local employers is a five-unit power station called the Crystal River Energy Complex owned by Progress Energy (soon to be a part of Duke Energy). Four of the units burn coal that comes via the Gulf of Mexico after being shipped down the Mississippi River. About 90% of the site area is dedicated to hosting those four units, their fuel piles and the cooling towers for units 4 and 5.
In the middle of the site, there is a relatively small dome shape and a rectangular building that a trained eye can recognize as a single-unit nuclear plant. Near that plant there is a canal that provides the cooling water supply to the nuclear unit’s condensers.
I once lived close enough to that plant to pay it a visit now and then. I also sent letters to the editor to correct the local paper whenever they published an article about the Crystal River nuclear plant. Invariably, the article would be illustrated with a photo of the formidable hyperbolic cooling towers that cooled the coal fired units 4 and 5 at the plant. No matter how many times I sent those letters, some of which were published, the editors could not seem to understand that the cooling towers had nothing to do with the nuclear unit.
This morning, I had a flashback to those fruitless efforts at helping the advertiser supported media to improve its accuracy in reporting. The headline that caught my attention was Transformer fire sparks at Crystal River nuclear plant.
My initial reaction was to quietly exclaim to myself – how in the world could that be true? The Crystal River Nuclear Plant has been shut down for more than a year. The plant owner has been fixing a troubling crack that was made in the containment building as a result of improperly releasing the rebar tension during a cut to enable a steam generator replacement. I know a little about power plant transformers; though they occasionally catch fire, the probability of one of them catching fire when under very light or no load is very close to zero.
I looked at the source of the headline – ABC Action News. That is a mainstream, reasonably well funded source of information that should be able to afford fact checkers and cannot be overtly activist about any particular topic. Then I read the article to find out that the writer was apparently as ignorant as the folks at the St. Pete Times that I used to correct with depressing regularity. Here is what the text of the article said:
CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – A transformer fire at the Crystal River nuclear power plant will not impact Progress Energy customers, a company spokesman told ABC Action News.
Leah Bickley said the fire broke out around noon inside one of the coal burning units. Fire crews quickly responded and put the fire out. No one was hurt.
The plant’s nuclear operations were not affected. The unit is currently offline, but the electric supply to customers will not be impacted, Bickley said.
The transformer that burned was INSIDE one of the four coal fired units that just happen to be neighbors of a nuclear power plant. They do not share any facilities – other than perhaps a training building. They are not even inside the same security boundaries.
Here is a little exercise for you if you happen to write stories about energy and want to learn the difference between the Crystal River Nuclear Plant and the Crystal River Energy Complex. Start up Google Earth and “fly” over to the facility, which is at 28° 57′ N, 82° 42′ W. Take a look around to see just how massive a facility it is and how little a portion of the facility is related to the production of nuclear energy.
Stop writing articles that blame routine electrical equipment failures at the coal fired facilities on nuclear energy!