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NRC Reckless to Rush Georgia Nuclear Plant Relicensing, Public Citizen Says

Jan. 15, 2001

NRC Reckless to Rush Georgia Nuclear Plant Relicensing, Public Citizen Says

Hatch License Renewal Latest in Commission?s Hasty Promotion of Dangerous Nuclear Power

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? By renewing the license for the Edwin I. Hatch nuclear power plant in Georgia more than a decade before it was to expire, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is catering to the nuclear industry, ignoring public safety and trying to lock the nation into a needless reliance on a dangerous energy source, Public Citizen said today.

The NRC on Jan. 11 announced that it had renewed the licenses for the two reactors at Hatch. Hatch is the latest in a wave of relicensing applications approved by the NRC, allowing aging nuclear reactors to operate for 20 years beyond their original 40-year license terms.

“As a result of the commission?s action, Hatch?s two reactors will continue to tempt terrorists, generate deadly nuclear waste, contaminate the environment and threaten public safety for decades,” said Hugh Jackson, a policy analyst with Public Citizen.

Hatch?s two reactors opened in 1974 and 1978. Their licenses were not scheduled to expire until 2014 and 2018, respectively. The relicensing will enable them to run until 2034 and 2038. The Hatch plant, owned by Southern Nuclear Operating Co., is located in Baxley, in southeast Georgia.

A study prepared for the NRC by the Sandia National Laboratory estimated that a nuclear accident at Hatch could result in nearly 1,000 deaths and more than 8,000 injuries within a 70-mile radius of the plant and have financial consequences of more than $100 billion. Those estimates were based on 1982 dollars and population figures.

Hatch is the fourth plant to be relicensed since 1995; eight other plants have active relicensing applications. Nuclear power executives as well as NRC Chairman Richard Meserve have said that they expect the remaining owners of the nation?s 103 operating commercial nuclear reactors to apply for license renewal. Judging by the NRC?s actions thus far, and by its closeness to the industry, it is likely that every application will be approved, Jackson said.

The NRC is even boasting about its expedited relicensing process. At a Sept. 19, 2001, meeting between NRC staffers and nuclear power industry executives ? just days after the tragic attacks of Sept. 11 ? agency relicensing officials proudly noted that plant relicensing reviews were either on or ahead of schedule, minutes of the meeting show. Hatch was one of those ahead of schedule; it was approved almost a year sooner than anticipated.

Public Citizen contends that the NRC?s attitude is irresponsible because of security concerns posed by nuclear plants, the nuclear waste that plants generate and the safety concerns associated with aging parts. Since Sept. 11, citizens have been seeking assurances that the government is taking extra precautions to protect the public from a nuclear disaster. Not only has the agency given the green light for a continuation of nuclear power, but it has shut down key portions of its Web site, barring the public from obtaining information about NRC activities such as relicensing, or about safety problems at plants.

Public Citizen repeatedly has called on Meserve and the NRC to halt the relicensing process, but they have refused.

Another problem with relicensing Hatch and other nuclear plants is that there is no place to store the nation?s nuclear waste. The only site under consideration, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, is not equipped to handle all the nation?s waste and poses numerous environmental and logistical hazards.

Just as at the Hatch plant, the original licenses at all plants up for renewal aren?t scheduled to expire for at least 10 years, and in some cases more than 20 years ? plenty of time for a national commitment to conservation and to replacing nuclear energy with safe, clean and affordable energy sources, Jackson said.

“Hatch was licensed to operate for another 12 years. There was no reason to extend the license except that Southern Nuclear wanted it,” Jackson said. “Sadly, when the nuclear industry wants something, the NRC obediently complies.”

In addition to Hatch, the NRC has approved license renewals for Calvert Cliffs in Maryland; Oconee in South Carolina and Arkansas Nuclear One in Arkansas. Plants with active applications include: Florida Power & Light?s Turkey Point and St. Lucie plants; Dominion Energy?s Surry and North Anna in Virginia; Duke Energy?s McGuire in North Carolina and Catawba in South Carolina; Exelon?s Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania; and Omaha Public Power District?s Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska.