WASHINGTON – Calvert Cliffs became the first nuclear power plant in the nation to win renewed operating licenses for its reactors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday.
The unanimous vote extends the licenses for Calvert Cliffs’ two nuclear reactors by 20 years, allowing them to operate until 2034 and 2036. It is the first renewal under the NRC’s streamlined, two-year process, which has been watched closely by more than 20 nuclear power plants around the country that are approaching the end of their original 40-year licenses.
Watchdog groups said Thursday they were not surprised by the vote, which they called the natural outcome of a process that moves too quickly to allow the public adequate time to participate.
“We always knew what the decision would be, we just didn’t know when it would be announced,” said David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s much like the old Soviet ballot system, when they called it democracy when there was only one name on the ballot.”
The relicensing still faces a challenge in federal court.
“We’ll wait for the court decision,” said Stephen Kohn, an attorney for the National Whistleblower Center, which filed the suit. “Major issues of public health and safety have not been adequately addressed.”
At the Lusby plant, however, employees burst into applause when they heard the news, said Charles Cruse, vice president for nuclear energy at Calvert Cliffs. Cruse said he went to the plant’s control room to announce the decision over the public-address system as soon as he heard.
“Speaking for myself and (Constellation Energy Group CEO Christian) Poindexter, we were both involved in the original design and construction of the plant (and) I couldn’t be prouder,” Cruse said.
Officials in Calvert County — which derives almost 20 percent of its annual budget from taxes on the nuclear power plant — said they were thrilled with the announcement.
“Wonderful. That’s great news,” said County Administrator James Allman, when told of the NRC’s decision.
The vote announced Thursday was the culmination of a 10-year, $20 million relicensing effort by the plant’s owners. To win relicensing, Calvert Cliffs had to pass an environmental impact study, a safety evaluation and three on-site inspections, among other requirements.
Sometime after the NRC staff formally recommended approval of the relicensing at a March 3 meeting, the five commissioners began voting. A document was circulated among the commissioners, who indicated on it how they wanted staff to proceed on the relicensing application.
The vote was completed Thursday when the last of the commissioners signed off on it. NRC officials said the vote was unanimous.
Officials at Baltimore Gas and Electric, which owns Calvert Cliffs, have said they expect to win the court challenge of the relicensing. But NRC Chairman Richard Meserve said in recent weeks that the agency “will comply with whatever court order is issued.”
Applications from three other electrical generating plants, with a total of six nuclear reactors, are already in the pipeline, the NRC said in a prepared statement.
Poindexter said Constellation Energy Group, the holding company of which BGE is a part, hopes to recoup some of the expense of the relicensing effort by helping other power companies with their applications.
The reactors at Calvert Cliffs began generating electricity in 1975 and 1977, and now produce power for about 1 million people in Maryland.