Government Judicial Body Affirms Role of Citizens’ Groups in Licensing Hearing of New Nuclear Plant at North Anna

August 6, 2004

Government Judicial Body Affirms Role of Citizens’ Groups in Licensing Hearing of New Nuclear Plant at North Anna

But Panel Rejects Hearing Legitimate Security, Radioactive Waste and Safety Concerns

MINERAL, Va. — Today’s ruling by a federal judicial board affirmed the participatory role of three public interest organizations in the upcoming licensing hearing for a proposed nuclear reactor in Virginia, petitioners Public Citizen, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said.

The board accepted two of the groups’ six criticisms (called “contentions”) about the application by Dominion for a permit to site at least one new nuclear reactor near the existing North Anna reactors. The board agreed to hear the coalition’s charge that an additional reactor or two at the site will have a detrimental effect on the striped bass population, one of the most important sport fish in Lake Anna.

“We are pleased that the board recognized the validity of our concerns about the important striped bass fishery in the lake, as well as our right to participate in this licensing process on behalf of our members in Virginia,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s energy program. “But we are dismayed that the board rejected hearing vital issues related to the environment, safety and security.”

Under new Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations, Dominion has applied for an Early Site Permit (ESP), which would allow the company to “bank” the site for 20 years, during which time it can choose a reactor type and apply for a combined construction and operating license.

“This new licensing process is strange beast,” said Lou Zeller with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. “The new process arbitrarily divides issues related to designing and approving a specific reactor for a specific site, making it extremely difficult for the public to have any say in the process.”

The board denied the coalition’s argument that the North Anna site should be evaluated to determine whether the entire reactor containment could be located below ground for security reasons.  The board also rejected the coalition’s concerns that there are no viable plans for a federal repository for the irradiated fuel, as well as its claims that Dominion has prepared an inadequate analysis of a severe accident.

“Given the September 11th Commission’s report that al Qaeda considered targeting nuclear power plants, it is outrageous that the board has failed to admit contentions related to security issues at nuclear power plants,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “Building more nuclear plants and piling up more irradiated fuel in the cooling pools will make these sites even more inviting to terrorists and more vulnerable to attack.”

The ruling came from a three-judge Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) appointed by the NRC, the federal agency responsible for licensing and regulating the commercial nuclear industry.  The board will hear, in a courtroom-style proceeding, disputes arising from Dominion’s license application.

The NRC’s licensing process is a formal legal procedure administered by the ASLB. The ASLB agreed to hear the following contentions:

  • In its application, Dominion failed to adequately address the adverse impacts of operating one or two additional reactors on the striped bass in Lake Anna and the North Anna River, in particular the impacts on the population from increased water temperature.
  • In its application, Dominion failed to consider the no-action alternative to the use of the Lake Anna water for cooling an additional reactor.

Early Site Permit applications have been submitted by other utilities in Port Gibson, Miss., and Clinton, Ill., as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Nuclear Power 2010 program. Taxpayers are funding half the cost of the ESP applications’ preparation and review, estimated at about $14 million each.   Further, as part of a consortium of utilities, construction firms and reactor vendors, Dominion applied on March 17 of this year for $250 million from the government to help prepare a combined construction and operating license for a future nuclear plant. 

Public Citizen and NIRS also filed contentions with the NRC for the Early Site Permits in Port Gibson, Miss., and Clinton, Ill.  To read today’s rulings at all three sites, please see “Court Opinions” at https://www.citizen.org/cmep/esp.

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