CLINTON, IL The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released today for a permit to site at least one new nuclear reactor at Exelon’s Clinton site in Illinois is incomplete and does not consider many important issues, according to several environmental and public interest groups involved in a legal challenge to the permit application.
“The NRC made their preliminary recommendation to approve a new reactor despite unresolved questions about the impacts on Clinton Lake and storing nuclear waste,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “Moreover, critical issues related to safety, security, and consumer protection are not even allowed to be addressed.”
Exelon has applied for an Early Site Permit (ESP), which would allow the company to “bank” the site for 20 years, during which time it can choose a reactor type and apply for a combined construction and operating license. The draft EIS based on Exelon’s application was released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has made a preliminary recommendation that the permit be issued.
Specifically, the need for power and alternative sources of power are not fairly considered in the draft EIS. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, an EIS is required to demonstrate the need for a specific project and must contain an analysis of alternative methods of meeting a project’s goals. The draft EIS for Clinton is deficient because its examination of energy need and potential alternatives is strictly limited in scope and vision, assuming a progressive rise in electricity demand and failing to seriously consider novel approaches to meeting energy needs involving a combination of efficiency, conservation, and renewables.
“Technically, this should not be considered an EIS because it fails to demonstrate that Illinois needs more power. How can anyone make a sound judgment when such vital and necessary information has not been collected or scrutinized?” said Janet Zeller, Executive Director of BREDL. “Exelon is planning to build this reactor simply to line its corporate pockets, without giving consideration to whether the ‘service’ being provided is even necessary. It’s not being done to lower electricity bills in Illinois or improve service.”
During oral arguments on the admission of the groups’ contentions last June, an attorney for Exelon admitted that “We aren’t required to meet the needs of anybody…All we need to do is generate power and sell it…We don’t even need to show need for power in the State of Illinois…” Exelon is a member of the PJM interconnection, a regional transmission organization (RTO). PJM coordinates the movement of electricity in many Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic states, facilitating Exelon’s ability to sell electricity generated in Illinois to customers in the East where electricity rates are higher.
“Illinois has tremendous renewable energy resources which, along with energy efficiency, are cheaper, safer, and more environmentally friendly alternatives to nuclear power that we can harness today,” said Shannon Fisk, staff attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
“Unfortunately for Illinois residents and the environment, the draft Environmental Impact Statement fails to recognize this.”
The draft EIS also does not examine the effect of increased production of nuclear waste absent a comprehensive national plan for dealing with itdespite an Illinois state law that prohibits construction of new nuclear reactors without a proven strategy for its safe, permanent disposaland it does not consider the environmental impacts of reprocessing spent fuel, despite continued federal funding for research and development for this technology. Nor does it consider the relative security of the site. Clinton Lake has been closed to public access in the past due to nation-wide security alerts.
“NRC has deliberately turned a blind eye to ignore the most troubling environmental problems with a new generation of reactors,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “The fact that there is no scientifically accepted plan for the new nuclear waste that would be generated reveals NRC and Exelon’s dangerous tunnel vision.”
Public Citizen, BREDL, NIRS, and ELPC are involved in an intervention against the possible plant expansion. Despite the narrow scope of issues that can be discussed during the siting review, the groups have successfully raised one argument, or “contention,” in their legal intervention. An NRC administrative judicial panel in August admitted to a hearing in the fall of 2005 a contention on the failure of Exelon to consider the ability of a combination of renewable energy technologies to meet its goal of adding additional generating capacity.
Four other contentions related to public safety, security and environmental protection were thrown out because NRC deemed them outside the scope of its streamlined review.