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Decision to Give Permit for Dominion’s North Anna Nuclear Reactor Is Dangerous, Shortsighted

Nov. 20, 2007

Decision to Give Permit for Dominion’s North Anna Nuclear Reactor Is Dangerous, Shortsighted

Energy Groups Oppose NRC’s Decision to Grant Early Site Permit Without Addressing Community Concerns

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An Early Site Permit (ESP) granted today to Dominion Generation for its North Anna nuclear power plant in Mineral, Va., is dangerously shortsighted, a coalition of public interest groups said today. Public Citizen, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) and the People’s Alliance for Clean Energy criticized the permit process, which assumes that certain environmental and safety issues have been evaluated and resolved when in fact they haven’t.

The permit, issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), approves the site for new reactor construction and allows Dominion to reserve the site for 20 years, during which time it can choose the type of reactor it wants to build and apply to construct and operate it. A key function of the permitting process is to identify the impacts a new reactor will have on its surrounding environment, but the process is inadequate because it does not require the applicant to base its findings on the actual reactor it intends to use. This means that the impacts identified may be inconclusive or wrong. When dealing with nuclear power, there is no room for uncertainty, the groups said.

The permit process does not allow regulators to take into account changes in the surrounding communities brought by unprecedented residential growth that has already occurred during the application review period and that is expected to continue – if not increase – during the 20-year life of the ESP approval. In addition, the permit process does not allow regulators to take into consideration critical waste and security issues that would result from building a new reactor at North Anna. The ESP process is serving as yet another way to grease the skids for a new generation of dangerous, polluting nuclear reactors and the deadly waste they produce, the groups contend.

“The NRC is fundamentally failing its mission,” said Paxus Calta, a member of the local citizens’ group People’s Alliance for Clean Energy. “Refusing to consider public concerns about terrorism at the plant because they are ‘too speculative’ puts the people of Louisa County, Va., in danger just to protect utility company profits.”

The government granted the permit after a three-year succession of grievances against the inadequacy of Dominion’s ESP application and the ESP process. In 2004, Public Citizen, along with BREDL and the Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRS), filed a petition with the NRC to oppose the ESP application. Although the groups’ first contention was dismissed in 2005, a second contention based on water impacts on Lake Anna and its tributaries continued. The groups are concerned about increased lake temperature, lowered water levels and disruption of downstream water flow. In January 2006, in response to the water impact contention, Dominion proposed a new cooling system for the third reactor. But Dominion’s proposal is still not sufficient to protect the lake and downstream water supply. 

“The Early Site Permit is invalid because it fails to fully address the reactors’ impact on the water,” said Allison Fisher, an organizer for Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “We seriously question whether the Lake Anna ecosystem can sustain two more nuclear reactors in addition to the two reactors already in use, and the NRC should have questioned that, too.”

Dominion was among three utilities to apply for an ESP. The other two, Entergy and Exelon, were granted ESPs in March 2007 for reactors at Grand Gulf in Mississippi and Clinton in Illinois, respectively. The ESP process has been restructured to streamline the issuance of permits and licenses necessary to build a new nuclear reactor. The process has come under fire by activists who maintain that the new process intentionally limits public participation and artificially segments the process of designing and approving a specific reactor for a certain site. 

“The process is biased against legitimate public participation and prevents us from discussing some of the most troubling concerns about nuclear power,” said Paul Gunter, director of reactor oversight for the Maryland-based nonprofit organization Beyond Nuclear. “Given that nobody knows what to do with the first cupful of nuclear waste, it is disturbing that the NRC bars the public from questioning this environmental problem during the licensing process to make more of it.”

“Dominion cannot construct and operate any nuclear power plant without a combined operating license, and we will weigh carefully our options in challenging this next permit,” said Lou Zeller of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. “However, in the meantime we are continuing to investigate cancers and other health impacts of radiation releases and examining the economic risks of nuclear power.”

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