On March 8, 2007 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the first Early Site Permit (ESP) in the country to the Exelon Generation Company for its Clinton, Illinois site. The ESP, which is given for a duration of 20 years plus a 20-year extension period, approves a site as suitable for new nuclear plants, but does not allow a company to actually build a new reactor. To date, Exelon has not applied for a license to construct and operate a new reactor at the Clinton site, nor has it indicated it's intention to do so.
The Clinton ESP permit was granted despite grave concerns raised by the NRC’s Licensing Board about the poor quality of the work done by the NRC Staff, which was responsible for reviewing Exelon’s application. The Licensing Board found that the review conducted by the NRC Staff was highly inadequate and illogical. The licensing board’s Initial Decision criticized the NRC Staff for failing to verify facts and presenting unsubstantiated findings. When the Licensing Board requested further documentation from the NRC Staff, the Staff appealed to the five NRC Commissioners to override the Board’s request. The Commissioners agreed to the Staff’s appeal, concluding that compliance with the request would be “unnecessarily burdensome” for the Staff. Issuing the Clinton ESP without allowing a thorough analysis of the application has gravely undermined the legitimacy of the ESP process and has left important security and environmental issues related to the suitability of the Clinton site unresolved.
Public Citizen, along with the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) filed a petition to intervene against the early site permit application on a variety of contentions. On July 28, 2005, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission dismissed the only contention that was admitted regarding Exelon's failure to properly consider energy efficiency and alternative energies in its application. The Board later dismissed the intervening parties after Exelon and the NRC Staff submitted a purportedly more thorough analysis of clean energy alternatives. The Board’s dismissal was upheld by the NRC Commissioners and a federal appellate court.
Currently, two reactors are operating at the Clinton site, generating 40 metric tons of spent fuel annually. In order to build a new reactor at the site, Exelon must apply for a combined construction and operation license (COL) at the site. Exelon has stated that it does not intend to apply for a COL at Clinton in the near-term, and is actually looking at possible sites in Texas. Tritium has been found leaking from several operating Exelon plants in Illinois. The IL Attorney General has sued Exelon for failing to disclose this information for 9 years.
The Clinton Early Site Permit application can be viewed here.