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Public Service Commission Decides Higher Electricity Prices, More Radioactive Waste, Greater Danger are In Best Interests of Marylanders

April 29, 2009

Public Service Commission Decides Higher Electricity Prices, More Radioactive Waste, Greater Danger are In Best Interests of Marylanders

Statement by the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition

The Maryland Public Service Commission’s (PSC) issuance today of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to UniStar Nuclear is a costly step in the wrong direction for Maryland’s energy future.

This permit serves as the state’s nod to construct a new uranium-fueled reactor in southern Maryland, a decision that not only could prove to be extraordinarily costly for taxpayers – as testimony provided to the PSC made clear – but tethers Maryland to continued reliance on dirty energy generation rather than moving our state toward becoming a leader in clean energy. The permit in its current form subjects UniStar Nuclear – a joint venture between Constellation Energy and the French-state controlled Electricite de France (EDF), which increasingly controls Constellation itself – only to some minor conditions.

The state approval to build the unproven and controversial Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) design is not only premature but wholly ill-advised. The permit will allow UniStar to break ground at the proposed site at Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant this summer, years before either the selected reactor design can be certified and before a federal construction and operating license can be obtained. The EPR is a product of Areva, the French, largely government-owned nuclear behemoth, whose EPRs under construction in France and Finland are foundering due to technical problems and cost overruns.

EDF has proven itself unworthy of operating in Maryland. In March, its headquarters in France was raided by the European Commission for suspected anti-trust violations and market manipulation – an allegation added to an existing investigation on charges associated with anti-competitive practices. Later that month, top EDF officials were indicted by a French court for activities involving spying on the environmental group Greenpeace France, which has criticized EDF’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, its shares have dropped so drastically that the utility is being forced to sell off $6.4 billion in assets.

The PSC’s concession to allow the construction of a new nuclear reactor belies Maryland’s stated pledge toward energy efficiency and renewable energy. In fact, committing to a new reactor serves as a disincentive to strong implementation of energy efficiency programs and renewable energy project development. Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner and utility expert Peter Bradford has noted that the ” all of the above” approach – often advocated by the nuclear industry – to our national energy portfolio does not necessarily play out well at the local level. According to Bradford, “sometimes solutions [to energy demand] drive out other solutions. If a region commits to a 1,600 [megawatt] reactor, then there is little motivation to do efficiency or renewables.”

Finally, the state permitting process proved inadequate in its mandate to include broad public participation. Official public hearings were limited to Solomons, a small coastal town at the tip of southern Maryland. Despite the known range of potential and real impacts of a nuclear reactor, the PSC maintains that outreach for public comment in siting a power plant has historically been limited to the proposed area. Beyond environmental and public health impacts, a decision to build a new nuclear reactor could impact all Maryland ratepayers and taxpayers and, therefore, debate should not have been confined within the boundaries of southern Maryland.

In an attempt to remedy this oversight and include more Maryland residents in the dialogue on nuclear power, the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition sponsored a public hearing in Baltimore in August 2008. Sixty residents provided comments. In addition to comments collected at the meeting, more than 200 Maryland residents signed a petition urging the PSC to deny the permit on the grounds that clean energy technologies can deliver a more reliable supply of electricity faster and at lower cost than building a new nuclear reactor. The PSC acknowledged that the majority of written comments in its proceeding opposed the Calvert Cliffs project.

Given the PSC’s own projected electricity shortfalls for 2011-2012, proceeding with Calvert Cliffs-3 at this time makes no sense for the state. Investments that could and should go to faster, cheaper, cleaner and safer energy sources that could actually help address that shortfall instead would be used on construction of a white elephant that will haunt Maryland for decades.

The Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition points out that the battle over Calvert Cliffs-3 is far from over. Member groups of the coalition are also intervening in another Maryland PSC proceeding – involving EDF’s investment in Constellation – and in the federal licensing process before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In that proceeding, intervenors are pointing out that the corporate structure for this project is illegal under the Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits foreign ownership, control or domination of a U.S. nuclear reactor and thus a federal license for this project cannot be granted.

Moreover, the project still faces numerous other hurdles, from obtaining financing – even taxpayer financing may not be easy to come by – to, if construction even begins, successfully managing a mammoth construction project. In that regard, it is worth noting that the Finnish EPR – the first one under construction anywhere in the world – continues to slide further behind schedule and further over-budget. A similar budget overrun in Maryland likely would force the Calvert Cliffs-3 project to be abandoned.

LEARN more about the financial risks of nuclear power.

LEARN about the companies behind the Calvert Cliffs reactor.