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Opinions mixed on nuclear plants

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Levy County residents - and a few visitors - gave mixed reviews about the seting of a nuclear power plant near Inglis at a public hearing last week.

Progress Energy has proposed building a two-unit nuclear plant on a 5,100-acre site it owns in southern Levy County.

The meeting on Aug. 7 at the county courthouse was to collect information for a report the County Commission will send to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP is the agency that will issue the site certification license for the plant.

While some residents spoke in favor of the plant, noting it would generate jobs to keep younger generations to stay in the area, others said disposal of the nuclear waste, eroding land values, and noise created by the company's use of railroad tracks to haul supplies concerned them.

While the state DEP and Progress Energy rolled out thorough Power Point presentations and had staff on hand to answer questions, only about 50 residents attended the evening hearing.

Levy County Attorney Anne Bast Brown opened the hearing noting, "This is your only chance to be in this process with the applicant, the DEP and the board (Levy County Board of Commissioners) and the public."

Danny Roderick, Progress Energy's spokesman, said the company was proposing a nuclear plant for two reasons:

The area is still growing, despite a slowing in growth. "We need to add 2,200 megawatts of electricity to the company's system."

The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions combined with the rising cost of fossil fuels - coal and natural gas. "The customer's bill is going to go up $92 billion," if the company uses fossil fuel.

On the plus side, he said the company is looking to start recruiting the technical talent it will need to operate the plant in 2016 from among the county's eighth and ninth grade students. "We call it the 'Grow your own' program. If they will stay in these technical fields they'll stay here," he said.

Doug King of Chiefland, who said his family has been in the area for five generations, called the jobs a godsend.

"Now if they're lucky enough to find a job it's with the county and the school board," King said. "I am confident that the NRC and the DEP will protect us."

Betty Berger's concern was that the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear generator has not been approved by the NRC.

"The application is 6,500 pages, but only 121 are certified," she said. Many pages of the plans have been withdrawn. "There is no operating prototype."

"And there is no solution for radioactive waste problem," she said. Berger asked the board to not approve the special exception for the plant.

Roderick said several companies and countries are ordering the units and China is building nuclear plants to use Westinghouse AP1000 units. He said there will be a track record of the units' use for several years available from the Chinese plant before the Progress units are started.

Charles Goodman of Williston said he supported the plant and that nuclear power could be "safely done."

"You reduce the waste by reprocessing," he said. "We have nuclear waste that is not being reprocessed." He said that choice could be "creating a hazard for 10,000 years."

Rob Brinkman of the Suwanee Sierra Club said among his concerns is the plant in Ohio that processes the nuclear fuel uses as much electricity as the city of Cleveland that is produced by fossil-fuel plants with carbon-emissions and that the spent fuel from the Inglis plant won't be leaving the site.

Referring to the federal government's proposed nuclear waste disposal site in Nevada, he said: "Yucca Mountain won't see an ounce of waste from this site.

"There are two issues in reprocessing. One is cost, it costs $3,000 using virgin fuel (to reprocess), and (two) the products you get you can make a bomb out of 'em."

Brinkman said all the waste produced in 60-80 years of the plant's life "will stay in Levy County and will last longer than our children's, children's, children's, children's, children."

Roderick said it was not up to Progress Energy how nuclear fuel waste is handled of as the federal government dictates its disposal and has contracted to receive the nuclear waste.

"We would rather reuse than bury," he said. "Everything has waste. Whatever you build, there's something left over."

He said the fuel would be loaded and used in the plant for six years before being stored in "hardened" buildings at the site. He said the waste from the plant would fill a football field 3-feet deep. But if Progress were allowed to reprocess the used fuel it would only fill the end zone 4-feet deep.

He added that the Chinese have chosen to reprocess their spent nuclear fuel rather than dispose of it.

Douglas Cobb of Old Town, said, "Nuclear material is the highest known toxic material to man. What do you do with a building that's the size of that building that's highly radioactive?"

As for the Chinese plant, Cobb said: "China is not a yardstick I want to use to measure environmental performance."

David Gateline of Yankeetown said he worked in the nuclear plant industry for 30 years. But then came the accidents at other nuclear plants.

"For a time I was afraid of nuclear power," he said. "Now I live 2 miles from the Crystal River 3 (nuclear) plant.. But I live retired, relaxed and sleep at night."

Emily Casey said while the plants would start production in 2016 and 2017, she said they would only provide enough power for the area's needs until 2023. "What do you plan to do then," she asked.

"In 2023 we have plans to retire two plants, and other technologies that need to be developed may be ready," Roderick said. "If no other technology becomes available we may need to look at nuclear again. It's an ongoing issue."

Ted Medlin of Dunnellon, representing the Rainbow Springs Railroad Committee, asked what Progress Energy intended to do about a railroad track they will use that comes as close as 80 feet to homes in the area.

"When that train goes through they're going to have to blow that horn," he said. "Is Progress Energy going to compensate those whose property is going to go down two probably nothing?"

Roderick said the company had not finalized its plans on the rail passage. "That rail corridor was built for that purpose many years ago," Roderick said. "Before many of the houses were built."

In an afterthought, Roderick said the company does pay for its impact and there are state laws that cover such matters. "Progress Energy is a stand-up company, but you have to remember that the cost goes to the customer," he said.

Kenneth Breckenridge of Gainesville said getting rid of the 370 tons of reactor waste will cost $92.6 billion.

Mike Halpin of the state DEP said, "We don't address matters of cost or fuel type." He said counties affected by the siting of the plant and its transmission lines will give their recommendations to the DEP and a license can be issued. He noted that this is not to be confused with the required federal licensing by the NRC which deals with the nuclear plant itself.

Halpin said if the land use is disputed by a third party, the case would be sent to Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet for a decision.

He said the public hearing to be held in 2009 could last from a few hours to weeks. "I wouldn't be surprised if it was weeks," Halpin said.

The commissioners will submit a report after the hearing that will list any issues the county has with Progress Energy's application for site certification, a recommendation of approval or denial of the application, and any conditions the board would impose for a special exception approval of the site application.

That report will be part of a public hearing in early 2009 by J. Lawrence Johnston, the administrative law judge overseeing the process.

The company says the plant's construction would generate 800 permanent jobs and 1,000 to 2,000 indirect positions, while also creating as many as 3,000 temporary jobs during construction.

Total cost for the project is $14 billion, including the nuclear fuel, and $3 billion for the 200 miles of transmission lines and equipment.