WASHINGTON – The relicensing of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant will have minimal environmental impact and should be allowed to proceed, according to a draft statement from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The environmental impact statement will be presented Tuesday at two public hearings in Solomons, along with a safety evaluation report by the NRC on the aging plant.
Environmental groups are already criticizing the NRC process as little more than “cheerleading for the industry,” and they said a new streamlined system for license renewal bypasses the public.
“The NRC has essentially acquiesced to the utility industry,” said Paul Gunter of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “It’s clear they’ve removed all substantive issues that could be contentious.”
The environmental impact statement to be presented Tuesday addressed “impact categories” including: land use, ecology, surface and groundwater quality, air quality, waste, human health, socioeconomics, aesthetics, archeological and historical resources and environmental justice.
The NRC said the impact would be minimal in each of those categories. The study concluded that environmental impacts “are not so great that preserving the option of license renewal for energy planning decision-makers would be unreasonable.”
The report predicted minimal impact on the environment from on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel, saying Calvert Cliffs has enough storage space until a national nuclear waste site opens at Yucca Mountain in New Mexico.
“In fairness, that’s reasonable,” said David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“But what they’re not looking at is that Yucca Mountain can only hold 70,000 metric tons of waste — assuming it opens,” Lochbaum said. “If a large number of plants get extensions that (capacity) might get exceeded and they’re not addressing that.”
The NRC’s environmental report does not try to predict the impact of a nuclear accident. Accident reduction strategies are addressed in a safety evaluation report that was released March 22, said Chris Grimes, chief of license renewal and standardization with the commission.
The safety report, which will also be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting, describes “how plant aging effects will be managed” by BG&E at the Calvert Cliffs plant.
Under old relicensing procedures, Calvert Cliffs would have faced inspections of reactor components for aging, such as brittle metal in the reactor walls. But under regulations the NRC developed in the mid-1990s, nuclear power plants are now only required to show that they have an effective maintenance program. The commission then conducts spot checks of the plant’s maintenance plan, Grimes said.
Calvert Cliffs is the first plant in the country to apply for an operating extension under the new regulations.
The two-reactor power plant in Lusby, about 45 miles southeast of Washington, is currently licensed to operate until 2015. The plant’s owner, Baltimore Gas & Electric, applied last April for a 20-year extension of that license.
Calvert Cliffs is not the first nuclear plant in the country to seek a license extension. In 1990, the Yankee Atomic Electric power plant in Rowe, Mass., applied for a license extension under the old rules, but it was shut down in 1992 after tests indicated deterioration of the reactor’s metal walls.
Calvert Cliffs’ safety record is varied. Although it was on the commission’s “watch list” — nuclear plants that are closely monitored for safety violations — for four years in the early 1980s, it has stayed off the list since.
Tuesday’s meeting will be held at the Holiday Inn Select in Solomons, with a first session from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. and a repeat from 7 to 10 p.m. Copies of the environmental impact statement can be found online at http://www.nrc.gov/NRC/NUREGS/SR1437/S1/index.html.
Despite the hearings, opponents charge that the NRC has done little under its new regulations to include the public.
Gunter said the Calvert Cliffs license renewal process “just makes me hopping mad. It’s an affront to the democratic process.” He plans to attend Tuesday’s meeting, nonetheless.
“I might as well be bound and gagged, but I’ll be there.”