Dozens of people streamed into a Citrus County conference center Thursday with a message for a panel of federal nuclear authorities: Don't allow Progress Energy to harm the state's aquifer and waterways with the construction of its planned Levy County power plant.
"We believe this is the wrong plant, in the wrong place and being paid for the wrong way," said Theodora Rusnak, president of the Citrus County Council, an organization of civic clubs, homeowners associations and environmental groups.
Opponents of the plant are contesting the project in a case before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, an arm of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that is reviewing the impact the two-reactor plant might have on things like wetlands, floodplains and the aquifer.
During two hearings Thursday in Crystal River, the panel of three judges invited the public to comment on remaining environmental concerns posed by the development of a 3,000-acre site for the Levy County project. Progress wants to spend $20 billion for two nuclear reactors that the company proposes to bring online starting in 2021.
More than 70 people attended the hearing.
"I've been doing this for eight years, and this is the largest number of people who have come forward," said administrative Judge Alex S. Karlin.
Not all of those who spoke opposed the plant.
John Siefert, Citrus County's economic development director, said that despite some of the criticism, Progress has been a good corporate citizen, helping to protect environmental interests in the county where its only existing nuclear plant sits idle because of damage to the reactor building.
"We applaud Progress Energy for what they've done in the past," Siefert said.
Michael Lecanto, a retired reactor operator at Crystal River and other nuclear plants, said Progress' plans for the Levy County project are safer because it is not located on the coast like the Crystal River reactor is.
"I think Progress should be commended for a more inland location," Lecanto said at the hearing. "I see this as a more friendly design for the environment."
But opponents said construction of the two reactors includes plans to dig 100 feet into the ground for the foundation of the plant, which threatens the Cross Florida Barge Canal, the aquifer, and aquatic life.
Mandy Hancock, a Gainesville resident and high-risk energy organizer for the South Alliance for Clean Energy, said plans for fresh groundwater for the plant will "have large impacts on surrounding water resources."
The hearing is part of the NRC's review of Progress' application for an operating license for the plant. The NRC is expected to make a decision on the application sometime in 2013.