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NRC Strikes Down Environmental Justice Claims and Bid For Licensing Hearing to Site New Reactor Unit at Grand Gulf

August 6, 2004

NRC Strikes Down Environmental Justice Claims and Bid For Licensing Hearing to Site New Reactor Unit at Grand Gulf

PORT GIBSON, Miss. — In a blow to environmental justice principles, a federal licensing board of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has denied four environmental, public interest and civil rights organizations entrance into a licensing hearing on Entergy’s application to site a new nuclear reactor in Mississippi under the agency’s new streamlined licensing proceedings.

The licensing board denied all of the groups’ criticisms, or “contentions,” about an Entergy Nuclear application for a permit to site at least one new nuclear reactor near its existing Grand Gulf Unit 1 reactor in Port Gibson, Mississippi. The proposed reactor would be located in Claiborne County, with an 84 percent African American population and 32 percent of its residents living at or below the poverty line.

“NRC simply ignored very real environmental justice issues in Claiborne County and factual disputes in dismissing our case,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “NRC offered very little, if any, rationale for its denial of a hearing on how a predominately minority and poor community sitting right next door to an atomic power plant is hurt by expanding this dangerous site.”

“This is an assault on environmental justice in a bid to push new reactors through the agency’s new McLicensing procedure,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s energy program.  “In the process, the licensing board has given short shrift to a proceeding vitally important to the future health, safety and livelihood of Claiborne County’s residents.”

The two groups said they would appeal the Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) decision to the agency’s commissioners within the required 10 days.

In denying the contentions, the licensing board did not address the coalition’s argument that a peculiar Mississippi tax law passed by the state legislature shortly after Grand Gulf Unit 1 came on line in 1985, which redistributed most of the county’s original property tax revenue from the Grand Gulf nuclear power station to 44 other counties in the company’s electricity distribution network, has disproportionately and adversely impacted Claiborne County.

The ruling came from the three-judge ASLB appointed by the NRC, the federal agency responsible for licensing and regulating the domestic nuclear industry. 

The ASLB also denied contentions on the application’s lack of analysis on safety implications from locating a new reactor design adjacent to an older and earlier model reactor, the need for below-grade construction of new reactors in the post-September 11th world, severe accident impacts, emergency planning, and the lack of a demonstrated national long-term management plan for new nuclear waste generated by any new reactors.

The Early Site Permit (ESP) 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. 

The board determined that the coalition’s emergency planning contentions could properly be raised at the combined construction permit/operating license stage.

Early Site Permit applications have been submitted by utilities in Clinton, Illinois, and Mineral, Virginia, 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. As part of the NuStart Energy Development consortium, Entergy announced last week it is applying for $400 million from the government to help prepare a combined construction and operating license for a future nuclear reactor.

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