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Federal regulators: Can't say for sure Duke customers won't pay more

CRYSTAL RIVER — Peppered with a series of questions about the cost of decommissioning the Crystal River nuclear plant, federal regulators could not say whether current trust funds are enough for Duke Energy to avoid collecting more from its customers to complete the process.

An economist with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that based on the estimates and assumptions so far, it is believed that the $780 million Duke currently maintains in its decommissioning and spent fuel funds will pay for all costs during the 60-year project.

"There is no one here who can tell you there is enough money," said NRC economist Michael Dusaniwskyj during a public hearing Thursday night. He said Duke's estimates, though, are "reasonable."

Several of the two dozen community members who attended the meeting called for tougher scrutiny of the funds to ensure customers are not hit with huge costs related to closing down the plant.

"I'm really concerned as a Citrus County resident, as a ratepayer, as a retiree" about the utility, Harry Oates said. "I know these numbers don't work. How are we going to afford to clean this mess up?"

State Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, who attended the meeting, also questioned the estimates for the decommissioning project and said Thursday's discussion indicated the potential for the fund running short "is worse than I thought."

Thursday's public hearing was part of the NRC review of Duke's decommissioning plan.

In addition to concerns about cost, attendees raised concerns about such issues as the future of the spent nuclear fuel on the site, which the utility plans to store in dry casks until the federal government develops a permanent place to store it. Duke wants to sell unused fuel.

The NRC plans to include Thursday's comments, questions and concerns in its determination of whether Duke's plan meets federal requirements. Though the NRC is not required to issue a formal approval of the plan, the agency may seek changes or request more information on aspects of the project.

In February 2013, Duke, which inherited the problem after its merger with Progress Energy in 2012, announced it would permanently close the Crystal River nuclear plant after determining that the risk and cost to repair the facility after a botched upgrade project in 2009 were too high.

Instead, the utility chose to close the plant using a 60-year process, called safe storage or SAFSTOR.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

Federal regulators: Can't say for sure Duke customers won't pay more 01/16/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 16, 2014 10:43pm]
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