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Public Citizen Urges NRC, Congress to Take Hint From FAA

Nov. 1, 2001

Public Citizen Urges NRC, Congress to Take Hint From FAA

Flight Ban Underscores Dangers of Nuclear Power Plants

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Flight restrictions around nuclear power plants imposed this week by the federal government underscore how dangerous the plants are and serve as further proof that nuclear power plants should not be relicensed and new plants should not be built, Public Citizen said today.

On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibited all general aviation flights within 10 miles of, and lower than 18,000 feet above, the nation?s commercial nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities, for reasons of national security. Such concern is not unwarranted; a disciple of Osama bin Laden being held in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance was quoted in The Washington Post this week as saying that the terrorists who struck America on Sept. 11 should have targeted a nuclear plant.

But while the FAA apparently recognizes the threat posed by nuclear plants, others in government are continuing efforts to expand and subsidize the nuclear industry. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is still working toward relicensing nuclear plants, and congressional lawmakers are continuing to push a measure that would require taxpayers pay the majority of the costs in the event of a nuclear accident.

“Since Sept. 11, the public has been seeking assurances that nuclear power plants will not be the next, and incredibly devastating, targets of terrorist attacks,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Yet astonishingly, even in the midst of a seemingly interminable series of heightened alerts, federal policymakers are acting to enrich the target environment for terrorists by taking steps to build new nuclear plants and extend the lives of old ones.”

Nuclear power plants were originally licensed to operate for 40 years. Relicensing allows them to operate for another 20. In the weeks since Sept. 11, the NRC has forged ahead with the process of renewing licenses for reactors at several nuclear power plants. (The plants are Edwin E. Hatch, located northwest of Savannah, Ga.; Turkey Point, located northeast of Miami, Fla.; Surry, located near Williamsburg, Va.; North Anna, located northwest of Richmond, Va.; Catawba, in South Carolina, just south of Charlotte, N.C.; McGuire, located west of Charlotte, N.C.; and Peach Bottom, located west of Philadelphia.) Ultimately, perhaps as many as two-thirds of the nation?s 103 operating reactors could be granted extensions through the NRC?s pro forma relicensing procedure.

“It?s often said that September 11 changed everything,” Hauter said. “But not for the NRC, which is continuing business as usual. For the agency to just keep moving along on these license renewal applications is irresponsible and bizarre.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 2983, which reauthorizes the Price-Anderson Act. That act provides government-backed indemnification for the nuclear power industry in the event of any nuclear power accident. This will ensure that most of the cost of a nuclear plant accident would be paid for by taxpayers, not the nuclear power industry.

The bill?s supporters say it is crucial for the construction of new nuclear power plants ? evidence that the government wants to shield the industry from competitive market forces and effectively pave the way for the construction of new plants.

“The construction of new nuclear power plants is out of step with public sentiment, particularly now,” Hauter said. “It?s also unnecessary and incomprehensible. Really, what are these people thinking?”