WASHINGTON – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Tuesday denied a watchdog group’s petition to intervene in the relicensing of Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.
The ruling lets stand the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision last month to extend the plant’s two operating licenses for 20 years, until 2034 and 2036.
The National Whistleblower Center had challenged the relicensing process, arguing that deadlines imposed by the NRC were so tight that they effectively prevented the public from submitting its concerns in writing, as required.
But a three-judge panel of the appellate court disagreed Tuesday. Chief Judge Harry T. Edwards wrote that there is no doubt that the NRC “gave the center and other interested parties adequate notice.”
An attorney for the National Whistleblower Center said his group will file an appeal. In a prepared statement, Stephen Kohn said the decision “completely undermined” the public’s ability to challenge applications for renewed licenses by the owners of the nation’s nuclear power plants, many of which are approaching the end of their original 40-year operating permits.
But NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the court “recognized that the NRC bent over backwards to accommodate the National Whistleblower Center’s challenge.” He said the agency was not surprised by the ruling.
Constellation Energy Group, which owns Calvert Cliffs, also praised the ruling. Robert Denton, executive vice president for generation, said in a prepared statement that the decision “confirms that the (NRC’s) license renewal process provides ample opportunity for public participation. This decision closes the book on what has been a remarkably successful license renewal process.”
The court also rejected the claim by the National Whistleblower Center that the NRC improperly denied its request for an extended deadline. The court said the center’s argument that the NRC lacked authority to raise its standard for extending deadlines was “simply wrong.”
This is the second time the court has addressed the National Whistleblower Center’s petition against the NRC. Last November, the court ruled in favor of the group, instructing the NRC to let the center “participate meaningfully” in the license renewal process. But that decision was vacated by the court 11 days later and a new hearing was held March 2.
The National Whistleblower Center is one of several groups that have criticized the NRC’s new two-year relicensing process, saying it moves too quickly to allow the public to take part.
The NRC has said it adopted the streamlined process because some 17 plants are expected to apply for renewed licenses in the next 10 years. Calvert Cliffs was the first power plant in the nation to win relicensing when the agency gave it the OK on March 23.