SOLOMONS – Neighbors of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant supported the relicensing of the plant at a Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing Tuesday and told environmentalists to “leave our power plant alone.”
But the environmentalists, almost all from Washington, were adamant that Calvert Cliffs should not be allowed to become the first plant to have its license extended under what they called an “illegitimate process.”
“The process has been neutered by the nuclear power industry,” said James Riccio, a staff attorney with the Critical Mass Energy Project. He warned the crowd at Tuesday’s hearing that the NRC “is relicensing these reactors with a rubber stamp rather than with a substantive safety review.”
The audience did not appear swayed by Riccio and the handful of other opponents from various organizations.
“These interloping ambulance chasers denigrate and continue to denigrate the people of Calvert County,” said Tom Allhoff, a resident of St. Leonard and a representative of the Responsible Growth Alliance.
Allhoff was one of 59 people who turned out at the Holiday Inn Select for the first of two identical presentations Tuesday in which the NRC gave an overview of its recently completed environmental impact statement on Calvert Cliffs.
In a long and dry slide presentation, the NRC outlined its findings that the twin-reactor nuclear power plant in Lusby is safe enough and poses a minimal environmental impact to the community. The presentation ran two hours longer than scheduled and was interspersed with several breaks for public comment.
The poker-faced audience took advantage of the comment periods to support the plant’s owner, Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., and chastise the environmentalists. BG&E is the biggest private employer in the county, providing 1,500 jobs, and taxes on the Calvert Cliffs plant make up 21 percent of the county’s budget.
“Closing Calvert Cliffs would mean a $600 per house per year tax increase,” said Calvert County Commissioner David Hale. He said the five county commissioners “stand in unanimous support of the relicensing of this plant.”
Solomons Island Business Association President Gerald Clark drew much applause from the crowd when he turned to the opponents and told them to, “Leave our power plant alone.
“I don’t work for the government, the NRC or BG&E,” Clark said. “We trust BG&E, but we want you to verify their plans,” he said, looking over at the NRC panel.
The power plant, located about 45 miles southeast of Washington, is currently licensed to operate until 2015. Last April, it became the first nuclear plant in the country to apply for a 20-year extension of its license under newly streamlined NRC relicensing regulations.
Under the 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 demonstrate that they have an effective, albeit expanded, maintenance program, which the NRC spot-checks.
Environmental groups have criticized 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 predicted minimal impact on the environment from on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel at Calvert Cliffs. The plant currently stores its nuclear waste onsite and the NRC said there is enough storage space there until a proposed national nuclear waste site opens at Yucca Mountain in New Mexico.
But environmentalists charge that Yucca Mountain would not be able to handle the large amounts of nuclear waste that could result from a flood of nuclear plant license renewals across the country.
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., began to apply for a license extension under the old rules, but it was shut down in 1992 after tests indicated reactor deterioration.
Calvert Cliffs has enjoyed a varied safety record. 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.
The public comment period on the Calvert Cliffs environmental impact statement will end on May 20.