Execs: Handling of Crystal River Info Played Role in Ouster of Progress CEO Following Merger With Duke

Information surrounding the damaged containment building at the Crystal River nuclear plant has become a point of contention in regulatory hearings following the ouster of former Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson shortly after its merger with Duke Energy.

Angered by what they saw as the negation of a key concession in the merger, members of the North Carolina Utilities Commission called in executives last week to explain his removal from the head of the newly combined company. In addition to complaints about Johnson's management style, The Tampa Bay Times and other outlets quoted Duke executives as saying Johnson was not forthcoming with information on the damaged nuclear plant.

Specifically, they said a last-minute presentation on a settlement with Florida regulators lacked details about the costs of fixing versus shutting down Crystal River 3. They also faulted Johnson for failing to set up a meeting between Duke's CEO and the plant's insurer, as well as delaying the delivery to Duke of a letter from Nuclear Electric Insurance Ltd.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Babcock and Wilcox reactor at Crystal River has been out of service since a steam generator replacement in 2009, when a hole made to pass the equipment through the containment building revealed a section of its concrete cleaving apart. For more than a year, Progress has been considering whether it makes more sense to close the plant than to incur further costs.

For his part, Johnson told North Carolina regulators that Duke's actions were, rather, a case of buyer's remorse, and that he'd attempted to attend Duke board meetings during the merger period only to be told it was not necessary.

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