WASHINGTON – The Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant can be relicensed without causing significant adverse environmental impact, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ruled.
The final environmental ruling by the NRC, released Thursday, brings the plant one step closer to a final ruling on its relicensing request, now scheduled for May.
Baltimore Gas & Electric hopes to renew licenses for the two reactors at the plant for 20 years beyond the current expiration dates of 2014 and 2016, at which time they will have been operating for 40 years. No U.S. nuclear plant has operated longer than 35 years, according a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“This latest approval is the proof that the continuous operation (of Calvert Cliffs) is the safe and smart thing to do,” said Karl Neddenien, a spokesman for BG&E.
But several citizens and environmental groups have contested claims that Calvert Cliffs is safe and have gone to court to block the license renewal process.
The National Whistleblower Center was in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington last week arguing that the NRC improperly denied requests in August 1998 for more public input on the process.
“An opportunity was lost,” to slow down the process and get more public comment, said Steve Kohn, an attorney for the National Whistleblower Center. Kohn said the court case is opponents’ only chance to force a reconsideration of safety regulations and set back the renewal process.
Opponents have complained that, under new relicensing guidelines that took effect with the Calvert Cliffs application, independent consultants and scientists had only 30 days last year to review documents that NRC staffers had 30 months to prepare.
“The entire process has several shortcomings,” said James Riccio, an attorney with Public Citizen, another group opposing the relicensing. “(It is) essentially a rubber stamp.”
But BG&E officials maintain that the process has been appropriate and balanced. There are still several steps before the final decision in May, including a safety evaluation that has to be done by Nov. 16 that will study how the plant would be maintained.
The Generic Environmental Impact Statement released Thursday will be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has 30 days to challenge it. But there will be no further public comment on the environmental concerns related to relicensing, an NRC official said. Thursday’s report included public comments that were made when the report was being drafted last year, he said.
“It’s one of the pieces of the licensing process that will lead up to the commission’s decision,” said Christopher Grimes, chief of the NRC licensing renewal and standardization branch.
The Lusby power plant’s two nuclear reactors produce about 1,700 megawatts of electricity, serving 1 million people in central Maryland. It is BG&E’s largest generating station, producing 45 percent of the company’s electricity, said Neddenien.