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Utilities nationwide could share the financial pain of the idled Crystal River nuclear plant

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The crippled Crystal River nuclear plant is now America's headache.

The bill to fix it and pay for replacement power may top $5 billion. The problem?

The company that insures all 104 U.S. nuclear power plants has just $3.6 billion on hand to pay for claims.

Broken nuclear plants in California, Texas and Michigan will vie for some of that money. But Crystal River alone represents such a financial threat that the insurance company, Nuclear Electric Insurance Ltd., may demand that its member utilities pony up more money.

And it could be a lot more -- and quickly. NEIL is allowed to raise as much as $2 billion from its members in just 20 days, said insurance rating and information agency A.M. Best Co. Inc., in a recent report on the insurer.

NEIL has remained mum on how it will proceed, but it has acknowledged that the damaged Crystal River plant is one of the industry's...

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