CRYSTAL RIVER — The public forum included freshly baked cookies, cheese trays, iced tea and a lot of questions about how safe it is to store spent nuclear fuel.
Duke Energy sent two-dozen blue-shirted experts to a public forum in Citrus County on Thursday to help answer those questions and allay fears about how the utility would decommission the county's now-closed nuclear plant.
The trade show-style presentations at the Plantation on Crystal River gave residents the chance to speak to the experts one-on-one. About 150 people peppered them with questions about safety, security and the prospects for another plant to replace the shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant.
"I'm concerned about … the nuclear waste up there," said state Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness. "And the fuel that's not spent, what's to be expected?"
Duke employee Jack Huegel gave a laundry list of answers:
"All of the nuclear fuel is still on the property," Huegel said. But it's safe, he said. Both the used and unused fuel sit in a "spent fuel pool."
The spent fuel is expected to be moved into a dry storage system in 2019, while the unused fuel will likely either be sold or returned to the vendor.
Fuel storage and security of the nuclear fuel were concerns of John and Donna Kudlas, snowbirds from Wisconsin who arrived in the area just three weeks ago to stay in the home they bought.
"I was primarily concerned about the storage," John Kudlas said. The public meeting, he said, "cleared up a lot of questions."
Duke organized the gathering after a survey of residents who live within 10 miles of the nuclear plant showed that they wanted more face-to-face meetings, mailings and media reports about the process of decommissioning Crystal River.
Duke announced last February that it would close the broken Crystal River plant, which suffered a crack in its reactor containment building during a botched upgrade project in 2009. Customers now face costs upward of $2 billion related to the shuttered facility.
Duke will spend the next 60 years dismantling and cleaning up the site. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission also will hold a hearing Jan. 16 to take comments from the public on the decommissioning plan.
Dean said he, like others, wanted to get a better understanding of where things stood in the process and to make sure the facility was safe and secure.
Duke employee Gary Mitchell advised Dean that security teams will remain in place to protect the site. "As far as our security posture, that will not change."
Diane Patton, 78, a 13-year Crystal River resident, said the forum and discussions with Duke employees were comforting.
"It's nice to know that they want us to be informed," Patton said. "It's nice to know that they care."