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National and Maryland Groups File Legal Challenges to Proposed Calvert Cliffs-3 Atomic Reactor

Nov. 20, 2008

National and Maryland Groups File Legal Challenges to Proposed Calvert Cliffs-3 Atomic Reactor

MarylandDoesn’t Need a $10 Billion Radioactive Boondoggle, Groups Say

WASHINGTON, D.C. Four environmental organizations filed a legal challenge late Wednesday against the proposed Calvert Cliffs-3 atomic reactor before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The filing, which is a formal petition to intervene in the NRC’s licensing process, marks the latest action in an ongoing fight to stop the proposed reactor before construction starts.

The challenge asserts that the Calvert Cliffs project runs afoul of laws and regulations that prohibit foreign ownership or domination of a U.S. reactor; that the company – UniStar Nuclear, a subsidiary of Constellation Energy and Electricite de France – does not have adequate assurance that it will have the funds necessary to decontaminate and decommission the facility; that the license application does not consider the cumulative effects of adding yet another nuclear reactor’s radioactive and chemical discharges to a Chesapeake Bay already groaning under the effects of discharges from 11 atomic reactors; and that the proposed reactor does not have any place to put either its high-level or “low-level” radioactive waste.

Wednesday’s move followed a separate legal motion that three of the four groups filed Tuesday with the NRC to delay the hearing process for Calvert Cliffs-3 until a design certification for the Areva Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) is obtained.

“The Unistar proposal inadequately addresses several critical issues,” said Allison Fisher, an organizer with Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “We are confident that the questions we’ve raised will illustrate that a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs is both economically and environmentally a bad deal for Maryland.”

If even one of these issues raised Wednesday is accepted for hearings – and the groups expect that all of the contentions will be accepted – the NRC will establish a three-judge Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) to hear the disputes in a formal adjudicatory setting. Typically, an ASLB consists of one attorney and two technical experts who examine the evidence, hear witnesses and cross-examination, and ultimately render a recommendation on licensing to the five-member NRC. Hearings on commercial-scale nuclear reactor projects typically take two or three years, sometimes longer.

The motion notes that the NRC’s licensing process was intended for applicants to reference an already-approved standardized reactor design. Instead, no new reactor designs have yet obtained design certification as they would be built, so the NRC is attempting to hold design certification proceedings and reactor licensing proceedings at the same time.

“The NRC’s licensing process has become perverted,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). “The NRC doesn’t even know if the proposed reactor designs are safe, but the utilities are plowing ahead anyway, making a mockery of the licensing process. Meanwhile, the public is trying to play catch-up with literally tens of thousands of pages of design documents that may or may not be relevant as designs are changed even after hearings have begun.

“Standard & Poor’s last month predicted that only 70 percent of Calvert Cliffs’ detailed design work would be completed before safety-related construction begins. That’s not a safe, certified, standardized design, that’s an economic and public safety disaster in the making,” Mariotte said.

“The NRC and Constellation are leading a charge beyond all the warning signs back into the same quagmire of a failed nuclear energy policy now more than 30 years old,” said Paul Gunter, director of Beyond Nuclear’s Reactor Oversight Project.

Julia Clark of Southern Maryland Citizens for Affordable Renewable Energy Solutions said: “Adding a 1,600-megawatt double nuclear reactor would make the Calvert Cliffs nuclear facility the largest nuclear power plant in the United States. It is the closest nuclear plant in proximity to Washington, D.C., making it a ripe target for terrorists.”

NIRS, Beyond Nuclear and Public Citizen, along with Maryland PIRG, also have intervened in Maryland Public Service Commission proceedings on the Calvert Cliffs application, as well as the proposed merger between MidAmerican Energy Holdings and Constellation Energy.

Copies of the filings are available on the NIRS and Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition Web sites.