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Nuclear power: Too expensive, too risky, too many questions

When the crucial issues of the today are digging out from under an economic recession and acting quickly to deter climate change, Public Citizen has repeatedly questioned the wisdom of putting any of our eggs in the nuclear basket –- a technology that is too expensive and too slow to be relevant to the times.

Case in point, the nuclear reactor design the industry is using to usher in the nuclear revival in the U.S is whimpering in retreat abroad. The European Pressurized Reactor — designed by French-state controlled Areva and peddled by French-state controlled Electricite de France — set to make its debut in Finland is currently 3 years behind schedule and nearly $3 billion over its original cost estimates. This reactor design, floundering in Finland as well as France, is the same that has been proposed for Maryland by a joint-venture between Baltimore-based Constellation and the previously mentioned, Electricte de France. While time and money are certainly key issues in rendering nuclear power obsolete when selecting our future energy portfolio, we were recently reminded of the most significant of nuclear power’s inherent flaws: safety. Recently, British nuclear regulators, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, brought its attempted nuclear relapse to a standstill due to safety concerns with the EPR. Electricite de France and Areva’s plans to build four new reactors in the UK within 8 years ground to a halt after British regulators suspended production due to concerns with its automated safety systems, calling them overly-complicated and specifically pointing to no controls for a manual shut down of the reactor and the ability of lower level safety systems to override higher levels as the culprits. The British were fortunate enough to discover and alert Areva to the flaw before starting construction. The Finish, already up to their ears in cement, have finally followed suit.

Back in the U.S., the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission tasked with both ensuring the safety and security of each new nuclear reactor design considered for U.S. soil and reviewing license applications to construct and operate said nuclear reactors, are doing it a little differently.

As the push for new reactors rains upon the NRC from foreign companies and U.S. utilities, the NRC has decided to deal with the duality of certifying reactor designs and the emplacement of said reactors simultaneously. The process of reviewing the license for designs that have yet to be deemed safe is challenging the NRC’s ability to successfully regulate nuclear power in the U.S.

However, in Maryland, the state Public Service Commission has an opportunity to stop the EPR before it has to fumble further down this convoluted federal regulatory path. After near bankruptcy and a failed merger with Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican, Constellation Energy has succumb to a deal with its nuclear development partner EdF. The deal, currently before the PSC, will give EdF significant influence over Constellation Energy and solidify its agenda to open up the US market- via Maryland- to French nukes, If the deal goes through, Maryland will be destined for a path riddled by high costs, great waste, elevated safety risks, and energy that will take years, perhaps decades to reach ratepayers.

To take action to stop Maryland’s grim energy future and encourage its status as a leader in clean energy, please sign this petition, urging the Maryland Public Service Commission to strike down the deal between Constellation and EdF. Say no deal to EdF and No Way to unsafe energy.