Coalition Cautions New Reactor Is Unnecessary, Dangerous and Costly Burden to Future MarylandElectric Ratepayers

The Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition

Aug. 4, 2008

Coalition Cautions New Reactor Is Unnecessary, Dangerous and Costly Burden to Future Maryland Electric Ratepayers

Solomons Island, MD – A coalition of safe energy advocates warned today that the third reactor proposed at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant is not in the public’s best interest and likely will become an extremely costly and dangerous mistake for the region’s energy policy. The advocates were scheduled to testify at Maryland Public Service Commission’s first public meeting Monday night on the proposal to build a new atomic reactor on the Chesapeake Bay.

UniStar, a consortium of Baltimore-based Constellation Energy and the French electricity operator EDF, has selected the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power station in Lusby, Maryland, for the construction of the first 1,600-megawatt Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) proposed for the United States.

UniStar has filed an application to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the state commission for approval to build the unproven and controversial design. The EPR is a product of Areva, the French, largely government-owned nuclear behemoth, whose EPRs under construction in France and Finland are foundering due to technical problems and cost overruns.

“State approval would open the door for UniStar to immediately start construction before the reactor design is fully scrutinized and licensed by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” said Allison Fisher, a safe energy campaigner with Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen.

Under a recent rewrite of federal law, the NRC provides that, under a “limited work authorization,” a nuclear utility may commence construction of everything but the reactor building and contents before a federal license is issued. 

“The state has the first opportunity to keep electric ratepayers out of a financially dark hole before it becomes too difficult to stop digging,” Fisher said.

“According to Wall Street’s own assessment, the ultimate cost of constructing a new reactor cannot even be imagined right now,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service based in, MD. 

Mariotte was referring to this summer’s Moody’s Corporate Finance Special Comment (May 2008). The Moody’s report concludes that rapidly rising nuclear costs (now surpassing $7,000 per kilowatt) will make nuclear construction projects increasingly less competitive compared to emerging and more economical energy alternatives including wind and solar where cost is steadily declining. Moody’s reported that the risk is great enough for the financial investment service to predict that a nuclear corporation’s credit rating could drop by 25 percent to 30 percent with construction.

Not only is the final cost of construction in serious question but also how long it will take to complete, as evidenced by EPR construction in Europe. Both uncertainties can negatively impact the new reactor’s safety.

“The writing for this project is already on the wall with mounting cost overruns and repeated delays for EPR pilot projects in Finland and France,” said Paul Gunter, director of Reactor Oversight at Takoma Park, MD-based Beyond Nuclear. “The scheduled completion of the Finnish project has now slipped by two and a half years to 2011 with the projected cost of completion now at $8.1 billion, a dramatic increase of $3.4 billion. Eventually schedule-driven financial pressure erodes public safety with this inherently dangerous industry.”  

The coalition further argues that new nuclear construction is not necessary.

“Marylanders can build a clean energy future for the region that doesn’t result in radioactive waste piling up on the Chesapeake Bay,” said Johanna Neumann, state director for Maryland Public Interest Research Group, which recently released its report, “Powering Maryland’s Future.” “The Public Service Commission should deny UniStar’s certificate on the grounds that increasingly affordable renewable energy and efficiency technologies already under way can provide a cleaner, safer and more stable electric system with superior economic benefits to the state.”

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The Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition was formed to challenge and subsequently stop the proposed new reactor at Calvert Cliffs. It consists of representatives from MD PIRG, Public Citizen, Beyond Nuclear, Sierra Club (MD), Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Green Party (MD), Clean Water Action and several local anti-nuclear activists.