WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court decision mandating “a meaningful hearing” on the relicensing of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant will have “minor, if any” effect, a Baltimore Gas & Electric spokesman said Tuesday.
“We will wait and see, but it doesn’t appear to have much effect,” said BG&E spokesman Karl Neddenien. “We are totally committed (to the renewal) because it just makes sense.”
But an attorney with the National Whistleblower Center, which went to court to challenge the relicensing process, said Friday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit could delay the process for two or three years.
Before Friday’s ruling, officials at BG&E and at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were predicting that final approval for Calvert Cliffs’ license renewal could have come as early as May.
Steve Kohn, the National Whistleblower Center attorney, said the court’s ruling assures the right of the public to participate in the relicensing debate.
“It’s not conceivable that they can grant the relicensing without providing the hearing required by the court,” he said. “It would be corrupt and illegal.”
“If they try to violate the law, we will seek to hold them accountable,” Kohn said.
The court ruled Friday that the NRC acted unfairly when it ignored a request for a public hearing filed by the National Whistleblower Center and when it did not give the center additional time to independently review the relicensing process.
The target of the suit, the NRC, declined to comment Tuesday on the potential impact of the court ruling on the Calvert Cliffs’ process. A spokesman said the commission would have an announcement on the case Wednesday.
Despite the ruling, BG&E still expects a final decision about Calvert Cliffs’ license renewal by early spring.
“The process has worked very well,” said Neddenien. “The NRC has done a fine job.”
If Calvert Cliffs is relicensed, the life of its two, 825-megawatt reactors will be extended by 20 years, to 2034 and 2036 respectively. The original licenses expire in 2014 and 2016, or 40 years after the generators went on-line. No U.S. nuclear plant has yet operated beyond 35 years, according a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Calvert Cliffs is the first nuclear power plant in the nation to seek relicensing under new, streamlined NRC rules. Critics of the plan to extend the life of Maryland’s only nuclear plant have charged that the scope of the relicensing review by the NRC was narrowed down so much that it is not safe. The NRC denied those charges, insisting that the process is sound.
In October, the NRC issued an environmental impact statement that said negative environmental effects of relicensing Calvert Cliffs were “not so great” that they could keep the process from going forward.
The power plant’s two nuclear reactors produce power for about 1 million customers in central Maryland. The Lusby power plant is BG&E’s largest generating station, producing 45 percent of the company’s electricity.