WASHINGTON – Nuclear Regulatory Commission staffers have recommended that the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant be relicensed for another 20 years, the next-to-last step before final approval.
The decision now lies with the commission, which is set to vote on the relicensing request on March 27.
If approved, the twin nuclear reactors at the Lusby plant would become the first in the nation to get the go-ahead to operate beyond their originally planned 40-year life spans.
Approval would extend the operation of one reactor to 2034 and the other to 2036. Baltimore Gas and Electric, which began generating electricity from Calvert Cliff’s two reactors in 1975 and 1977, now gets nearly half its power from the plant, serving about 1 million people.
“We are pleased that our license renewal application has met the rigorous requirements of the NRC evaluation process and independent technical reviews and is being recommended for approval,” said Charles H. Cruse, BGE vice president for nuclear energy, in a prepared statement.
But watchdog groups say the new regulations under which BGE is applying are far from rigorous.
In April 1998, Calvert Cliffs became the first plant in the nation to request relicensing under new, streamlined NRC regulations. Opponents have said that the scope has been narrowed in the new regulations to the point that the process is not safe. They also charge that the timetable is so rapid that the public is not given sufficient time to comment on all of the documents.
The National Whistleblower Center filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in an effort to delay the relicensing process. After initially ruling in favor of the opponents in November, the court suddenly turned around and vacated that decision 11 days later.
A new hearing before the appeals court has been set for March 2.
The NRC staff said in October that it found no environmental problems that “would preclude renewal of the licenses” at Calvert Cliffs. In November, it said there were no safety concerns about the relicensing because BGE had shown it had the “capability to manage the effects of plant aging.”
The NRC conducted three separate inspections of the plant before the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards recommended Dec. 10 that relicensing be allowed to proceed. The most recent staff report, dated Jan. 14 and released yesterday, formally recommends to the commissioners that relicensing be approved.
The only concern in the staff report focused on whether Calvert Cliffs could experience an electrical short in a partially underground cable, similar to one that occurred last fall at an Ohio nuclear plant in a cable between a turbine and a circulating water-pump room.
A study of the Ohio incident is not yet complete, but when it is, BGE has “committed to evaluate the root cause of the event for applicability to the most susceptible cables at Calvert Cliffs and take appropriate corrective action … if necessary,” according to the staff report.
The commission is scheduled to discuss the staff report at a March 3 meeting in Rockville, and vote on the issue March 27.