LUSBY – The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said he has “no concerns” about safety or other issues at Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant after touring the Lusby facility Friday.
The commission is expected to vote on new 20-year operating licenses for the two Calvert Cliffs nuclear reactors later this month. If approved, Calvert Cliffs would be the first nuclear power plant in the nation to be granted renewed licenses.
“We’re at the edges of making a decision, and before I make a decision, I thought I’d inspect the plant myself,” said NRC Chairman Richard A. Meserve at an afternoon news conference after he toured the plant.
“I don’t want to speculate on how I’m going to vote, [but] I did not see anything” that caused concern, he said.
Meserve’s visit came just one week after NRC staff formally recommended that the commission renew the licenses for the two reactors until 2034 and 2036.
Calvert Cliffs is operated by Baltimore Gas and Electric and provides power for about 1 million people in Maryland.
An opponent of the NRC’s new streamlined license renewal process said it is not unusual for commission members to visit to nuclear power plants. But “considering that they just got the staff approval, it seems to suggest that the timing wasn’t just coincidental,” said James Riccio, senior analyst for Public Citizen.
But Meserve said there was no hidden message in his visit Friday.
“My visit was exactly so I’d have some sense of what I’m voting on,” Meserve said, when asked about the timing.
The National Whistleblower Center, a group opposed to the relicensing process, has challenged the Calvert Cliffs renewal in court. The group argues that the NRC relicensing process moves too quickly to allow the public time to inspect all the documents.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is expected to rule on the case in about a month, say BGE officials.
If that ruling comes after the decision to relicense, “we’ll comply with whatever court order is issued,” Meserve said Friday.
Three other nuclear plants have applied for relicensing, and 17 more are expected to do so between now and 2010, Meserve said.
Many nuclear power plants in the United States are now coming to the end of their original licenses, which were granted for 40 years. With deregulation of electric utilities creating new competition in the marketplace, Meserve said, nuclear plant operators need to know soon whether they will be able to continue operating so they can invest in expensive replacement parts for aging plants.
For that reason, he said, the NRC license renewal process needs to be both safe and efficient.
BGE officials said they were pleased with the visit and continue to be optimistic that their licenses will be renewed.